Meet the Volunteers: Evelyn


Hello! I’m Evelyn Curl, and I started volunteering with the PAS at the Ludlow Museum Resource Centre in July of this year after completing my degree in Medieval and Early Modern History. Although my studies were largely focused on written sources and how to approach them as a historian, I have always been fascinated by material culture and how we use it to interpret the past. I grew up in Colchester, Essex, a town known for its rich history and archaeology. Permanently relocating to Shropshire last year was a bit of a culture shock as the area was completely new to me and I wanted to scope out all there was to know about its history. So what better way to do this than to get involved with the local Museum Resource Centre!

I started out by learning how to edit photographs in Adobe Photoshop, which would then be uploaded to the PAS Finds database. This is something I had no experience of, so I initially regarded the task as complicated and daunting, but I surprised myself by how quickly and easily I picked it up! I started out by Photoshopping small, round items like coins and tokens, and eventually moved on to more difficult things like intricate buckles and harness mounts. I then had the opportunity to photograph some artefacts, which proved to be a little more challenging than I initially thought it would be. The photographing process involves lots of regulating of colour, focus and light levels so as to produce the clearest image possible. Shiny objects in particular require lots of attention to avoid too much glare. I’m not very familiar with cameras and their lots of little buttons and functions, so this also took some getting used to, but I eventually got the hang of it and managed to take some really good photos.

In addition to all this, Peter Reavill, the Finds Liaison Officer for the area, provided me with some valuable training on how to write records, which nicely completed my PAS database skillset. You really have to inspect the artefact, and write about it in as much detail as possible. This involved some learning of new terms, and being aware of shape, colour and form. It gets you thinking about how much more there is to a small and simple object than meets the eye!

Perhaps my favourite part of being a PAS volunteer is how getting to handle some really interesting objects becomes a day-to-day occurrence. For example, I was lucky enough to help catalogue the famous Shropshire Piano Hoard – a hoard of gold sovereign and half sovereign coins that were found hidden underneath the keys of an upright piano. I personally love studying unusual and interesting coins of all different ages, so this was an incredible experience for me and is something that myself and PAS Intern Emily Freeman will be talking about at the PASt Explorers Conference in Cardiff on the 18th November. Needless to say, having the opportunity to handle all sorts of interesting objects like this really satisfied the history geek in me!

Volunteering for the PAS has meant that I’ve been able to do what I love, whilst acquiring some really valuable skills along the way. I have a view to developing a career in the Museum and Heritage sector, but I think that whatever your background or prospects, by becoming a PAS volunteer you are not only supporting a fantastic project, but it is also a great way to develop your own skills and connections.

Evelyn has been a brilliant volunteer and her work has been invaluable to the Shropshire team. She has recently accepted a full-time role with the Post-Excavation team at Border Archaeology and although we are a little bit sad to see her go, it is brilliant that she is progressing in her career and continuing to work with archaeological finds. Good luck Evelyn! – Emily Freeman

The Nesscliffe Spoons – A Treasure 20 Find

Treasure 20 is a way for someone like me to revisit the most important archaeological objects reported locally through PAS. One of the most significant finds from Shropshire are the Nesscliffe Iron Age Spoons. A panel of experts have judged that these are one of the most important finds reported through the Treasure Act in the past twenty years. You can vote on which you think is the most important in the Telegraph top 20 finds. In my opinion they are just as important (and I would say more so) than the Staffordshire Hoard or the Ringelmere Cup! You have until the 15th May to vote here

This is why I think you should use your vote to support the spoons!

What are they?

The Nesscliffe Spoons are one of the most important Iron Age finds from Northern Europe. They were found together on farmland near Nesscliffe, Shropshire in 2005 and reported to the local Finds Liaison Officer through the Treasure Act.

Why are they important?

Iron Age metalwork is exceptionally rare in Shropshire even though we have more hillforts than almost any other county in the country. Only twenty-three other examples of similar spoons are known – they have predominately been found in pairs. They have been discovered in Britain and Ireland as well as Northern France. The discovery of this pair was one of the first examples to be recovered in modern times.

Why are they Treasure?

The spoons are made from copper-alloy and because they are prehistoric in date and found together, they qualify as a ‘base metal prehistoric assemblage’ and therefore are Treasure (under the 2002 amendment) of the Treasure Act (1996).

Who found them?

A local metal detectorist called Trevor Brown who lives in North Shropshire. Trevor has been metal detecting for many years and has regularly reported his finds to both Shropshire Museums and also through the PAS. In 2009, he helped archaeologists with the excavation of the Shrewsbury Hoard recovering an additional 277 coins from the largest known Roman coin hoard from Shropshire.

How were the spoons made?

Both the Nesscliffe spoons are made from single sheets of copper alloy, hammered into shape over the same mould. They are similar enough in shape to be able to sit inside one another. Each spoon has a shallow bowl, pointed at one end, and rounder towards the stub handle end. Both handles are plain, although other Iron Age spoons are highly decorated with different designs on each of the handles.

Just like all the other pairs of spoons known, the Nesscliffe pair are not identical: One has two engraved lines forming a cross through the centre of the bowl, with a small circle highlighting where the two lines intersect. The other spoon is plain, but usually the plain spoon has a perforated hole on one side, towards the rim. In the Nesscliffe spoon, the bowl is torn at the point where we would expect to see the perforated hole. Most spoon holes are on the left-hand side; the Nesscliffe spoon appears to have had its hole on the right-hand side. When Trevor discovered the spoons, the ‘hole’ spoon was sitting inside the ‘cross’ spoon.

What does the decoration mean?

We simply do not know what these spoons were used for; one good theory is that they were used to tell the future / divination device. Perhaps a spoon was held in each hand, and a thick liquid like blood, oil or honey, or a fine powder, was allowed to flow through the hole in the ‘hole’ spoon, into the marked quarters of the ‘cross’ spoon. Depending on where the mixture dropped, the diviner would be able to predict the future.  Like tarot cards, reading tea leaves, or the Roman practice of reading the entrails of a sacrificed animal, the ‘truth’ is laid out in the otherwise random alignment or pattern, and it requires someone with the appropriate insight to ‘translate’.

Many seasonal cycles break into quarters – the annual seasons or the moon’s phases, for example, could perhaps be represented in the spoon quadrants.  Maybe people in the British and Irish Iron Age sought advice on when to plant crops, when to marry, begin journeys or commence raiding or warfare. Others have suggested to could be broken into the age of the community infant / childhood / adulthood and old age. It’s possible that ritual specialists (priests, priestesses or ‘druids’) were resident in every community, or they might have travelled between communities in an area, like holy men and shamans do in many tribal societies.

Where can I see them?

The spoons were acquired by Shropshire Museums and are on display in the Roman Gallery of Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery along with a considerable number of high status Iron Age finds – including the Telford Torc and the Claverley Stater Hoard

So now you know why I think these are the most important Treasure find from England and Wales in the past twenty years – explore the others and then have your say (vote for the Nesscliffe Spoons  )

Meet the Volunteers: Abigail Cox

Abigail Cox

Hello, I’m Abigail Cox, (BSc Geology, MSc Volcanology and Geological Hazards).

I started my first museum job as Graduate Curator of Natural Sciences at Ludlow Museum Resource Centre just over 11 months ago. I am also in the midst of undertaking an MSc in Museums Practice at University Centre Shrewsbury. As part of this I chose to undertake a project with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and consequently began volunteering for the PAS team in Herefordshire and Shropshire. As an Earth scientist, prior to beginning my job with Shropshire Council, I was completely unaware of the existence of PAS. Working with Finds Liaison Officer Peter Reavill and his intern Emily Freeman over the last few months, I have learnt important skills and gained a great deal of appreciation for the way the Portable Antiquities Scheme operates.

My first taste of being a PAS volunteer involved learning to edit and prepare images for upload onto the database using Adobe Photoshop. Peter started me out with some nice easy round coins which were easy to lift off the background, and after a couple of attempts I felt I had a good grasp of the photo editing process. However, not having a background in archaeology, I struggled to working out which way up the coins needed to go and had to pester Peter and Emily a lot. After managing with round things, I graduated to bumpier and mis-shaped coins, and then eventually on to three dimensional objects. Getting the correct layout of the images taken at  each angle for the 3D artefacts, proved to be a little confusing. Luckily Peter has a little model pinned to the noticeboard that I could check against and as before, when all else failed, I beckoned those in the know over for help.



Anyone who has worked with images will tell you that the key to a well Photoshopped image is a good image in the first place and as such it was time for me to learn the art of photographing artefacts. This was a lot more time consuming and complex than I thought it would be. The artefacts are corroded and worn being made of different materials which reflect light in different ways. There were also details that needed to be brought out such as the mint marks on coins.

The photographing process begins with a lighting rig, with two blubs on either side, the camera mounted above, and a glass plate below on which the artefact is placed. Using a tiny spirit level (so cute!…yes, I’m a girl) I had to make sure the camera and the glass plate were flat (or equally slanted). Then begins all the fun and games of adjusting the lights up and down to get the best picture. Sometimes there is too much glare and you have to use your hand to make a little shadow or even get a small mirror in there to reflect more light on to a darker spot. With the 3D objects there is the added battle to get them stood in the correct position to take the photo. This usually involved making holes and wedges in, and building supporting towers of, plastazote foam in which to place or lean the artefact. It’s a lot of effort at first but after a while I started to get into a flow and had techniques that I knew worked. Obviously I still got things wrong and Peter and Emily were on hand to suggest what might work better. At the beginning I kept forgetting that I could fiddle with the exposure on the camera. I was trying far to hard, when I should have been letting the fancy camera do the work.







Documenting finds on the PAS database is similar to the way items are accessioned on the museum database – but the categories are obviously much narrower. There is a far greater focus on location / findspots and very clear descriptions of the artefacts so that they can be distinguished from other very similar finds. As an archaeological layman, I have not reached the stage where I am able to identify the artefacts beyond the very simple of, that’s a coin and that’s an annular brooch. However, I did have a brief moment of feeling smug when I correctly recognised a find as a small model cannon.

Being in the early stages of my museum career, volunteering for PAS has proved hugely valuable. Not only has it been fun working alongside passionate volunteers, with varying backgrounds and interests, but it has opened my eyes to archaeology as a subject that I was completely unfamiliar. I have realised the full relationship between PAS and museums, learnt new skills and gained an understanding and appreciations for the role metal detectorists and other finders play in exposing our countries history.

I strongly recommend volunteering for the PAS, whatever your background.