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

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.