West Mids PAS Team Newsletter – Issue 2

Merry Christmas from us all. We hope you will be able to spend Christmas with your families after what has been a very strange year. We have got used to new ways of working from home and meeting with finders when the restrictions allow. But we do hope we can get back to meeting with our finders next year and visiting clubs and hosting finds days. We will continue to work from home for the foreseeable future as our work places remain closed to the public. We will continue to record finds and process treasure, so please do get in touch with us via email or telephone.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me….

Five Gold rings:

We thought we would have a look at some of the common types of finger ring we see here in the Midlands that are reported as treasure and explain their meaning and function.

Momento Mori

The tradition for mourning rings began in the seventeenth century. Money would often be left in a persons will to have a ring made to remember the deceased by. This example was discovered in North Warwickshire and depicts a skull in white enamel with the inscription DIE TO LIVE on the bezel. Many examples of memento mori also include the initials of the deceased. The white enamel used in this example is thought to represent an unmarried person with black enamel used for a married person.

The tradition for mourning rings began in the seventeenth century. Money would often be left in a persons will to have a ring made to remember the deceased by. This example was discovered in North Warwickshire and depicts a skull in white enamel with the inscription DIE TO LIVE on the bezel. Many examples of memento mori also include the initials of the deceased. The white enamel used in this example is thought to represent an unmarried person with black enamel used for a married person.

Iconographic

This example discovered near Slimbridge, Gloucestershire dates from the Late Medieval period and is silver-gilt. The bezel is decorated with geometric decoration instead of religious imagery which is often seen on rings of this type. Many examples are engraved with religious imagery such as saints, the Virgin Mary and Christ.

WMID-C2A201
https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/480408

Posy rings

Posy, posie or posey rings as they are also known get their name from the French word “poésie” meaning poem. This is due to the devotional messages that are normally inscribed on the inside of the band. They would then be shared with loved ones who knew the secret of what was written inside. Those inscribed with Roman capital letters were first used in the 16th and 17th centuries. Inscriptions in italics then became more popular later in the mid-17th century. This example was discovered near Tamworth in Staffordshire and is inscribed with A friendly pleadge” The small size of the ring suggests it was worn by a female. Does the use of friendly suggest it was given by a friend rather than a lover? Of course we will never know.

WAW-F83228
https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/778807

We have many finger rings with inscribed bezels on the PAS database. Some feature the owners or receiver’s initials . Roman examples may feature religious symbols or animals and birds. This Medieval example discovered in South Staffordshire depicts the bearded figure of St John the Baptist, who is cradling a lamb and has a cross behind them. Iconography associated with Holy images are commonly found on Medieval finger rings and are thought to represent personal devotion.

Finger rings with settings

This finger ring is dated to the Medieval period and features a small light blue cabochon turquoise semi-precious stone setting. Research by Adam Daubney (Former FLO for Lincolnshire) suggestsTurquoise was not a particularly valuable stone in the middle ages, but one that was valued for its amuletic properties, protecting the wearer against poisoning, drowning, or having an accident while riding. It was also supposed to have the property of indicating the state of health of the wearer by the shade the Turquoise went.”

Treasure Annual Report 2019

This year the treasure annual review was released in a slightly different way. Unfortunately the usual presentation and chance to see a display some of the year’s most important treasure discoveries could not take place at the British Museum. This year a zoom presentation was made which included discussions from The British Museums coin specialists, The Treasure Registrar, Michael Lewis the head of the scheme and Simon Maslin FLO for Surrey who discussed how 2020 has affected the daily working life of a FLO and our ability to meet with finders. 2019 was another recorded breaking year for treasure with 1,311 cases reported. Highlights from this region include:

This year the treasure annual review will be released in a slightly different way. Unfortunately the usual presentation and chance to see a display some of the year’s most important treasure discoveries will not take place as usual at the British Museum. This year it will instead take place via zoom on 9th December. 2019 was another recorded breaking year for treasure with 1,311 cases reported. Highlights from this region include:

HESH-237E03
https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/945312

HESH-237E03 Lead disc struck from the dies for a silver penny of William I (r. 1066–87) or William II (r. 1087–1100) found near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. Its function is uncertain, but may have been as a receipt to show that customs dues had been paid or a teststriking of the coin dies.

WMID-FAEC68 Silver shilling of Elizabeth I (AD 1558–1603) which has been modified into a mount or similar decorative item of unclear function. The piece is most unusual and doesn’t have any parallels on the database. It is thought it could perhaps be a mount, possibly for a book.  It was found at Flagg, Derbyshire.

Finds Identified II

A new publication was released in November 2020 by Greenlight Publishing. The book is written by Michael Lewis (Head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme) and Kevin Leahy (Finds Advisor for the scheme with a specialist knowledge in Early Medieval metalwork). The publication is a really useful reference book for metal objects and contains some 300 pages of artefacts from brooches and belt fittings to strap fittings and spurs. The book is packed with images of objects recorded on the PAS database. You may even spot one of your finds in there! The image size and quality is fantastic making it a really useful guide for the finds you may bring back from the field. Maybe one for your Christmas list!

Cast Your Vote

The 13th annual Current Archaeology Award is now open for voting. These are voted for completely by the public and you can have the chance to vote here https://www.archaeology.co.uk/vote. Voting closes on 8 February 2021. All the nominees are projects and publications that made the pages of the magazine over the past 12 months, and are believed to have made outstanding contributions to archaeology. The Herefordshire Viking hoard: unpicking the story of a stolen treasure is one of the nominees for rescue project of the year.

Our very own Peter Reavill was involved in a project to identify and retrieve a number of objects that are unique and help tell the story of Herefordshire in the Viking period. You may remember the story from the press last year with the finders who did not declare these archaeological significant objects facing tough prison sentences. Sadly, some of these items have never been retrieved and their full significance will not be understood. The work that Peter contributed as part of a collaboration with Herefordshire Archaeology, Birmingham Museums Trust, Herefordshire Museum Service and The British Museum is worthy of this award, well we think so anyway! Good luck Peter and don’t forget to cast your vote online.

Crystal sphere from the Viking Age hoard

We need your help – Do you have one of these in your collection?

Could you have one of these silver plaited wire rings in your collection at home? Historically the belief has grown up that they are all 19th-century walking-stick mounts and so are not only considered not treasure, but not worth recording as they are too modern. Recent research suggests that at least some are from 16th– to 18th-century sword-grips, and that others are certainly early-Medieval, either Anglo-Saxon or Viking. So if anyone has one in their collection please get in touch. They won’t be reported as Treasure, but will be recorded as of unknown date. Once a wider number have been recorded the relevant experts can then work out how to distinguish the Post Medieval varieties from the Early Medieval examples. These small research projects are just one of the ways that prove by working together with metal detectorists we can advance knowledge and learn more about our shared past.

West Midlands PAS Team Newsletter – Issue 1

Recording Finds in Lockdown
Celebrating 1.5 million finds
https://finds.org.uk/news
https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/1007171
https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/1011350

If you want to keep updated with the West Midlands FLO’s activities on Twitter follow: Peter @PeterReavill; Susheela @WandWFlo; Teresa @StaffsW and Victoria @FloMidlands

Volunteers’ Week – Meet our Team

Aimee is now our longest serving volunteer and so has updated us on her favourite objects and her forthcoming PhD. 

Why did I start volunteering for the PAS?

I did a degree in Ancient History and Archaeology and wanted to get more involved with the archaeology side of things, so I started volunteering for the PAS alongside taking part in community digs; that way, I got to see the whole picture of archaeology from small finds through to large-scale excavation. Although I’ve now moved away from archaeology and more into history, I find that working with the objects helps to keep history in perspective.

What period of the past most interests me?

I’m most interested in Classical Greece and the Hellenistic period that follows. In terms of British history, I’m most interested in the Roman period, but I can find something appealing in all time periods!

Which objects most interest me?

I particularly like Polden Hill brooches, but have recently developed a bit of a love for Roman coins as the imagery on them is so rich. I also really like medieval seal matrices! Which of the finds I have recorded is my favourite? Probably a gilded Roman disc brooch, similar to this one WMID-997A92. Even though it is incomplete, it looks quite modern, and I can imagine someone picking it up to wear today.

WMID-997A92 An incomplete Roman copper alloy gilded oval brooch dating to circa AD 200-350. 

What is my favourite historical site or monument?

I don’t visit historical sites nearly as much as I should, but I think the House of Dionysus in the archaeological park in Paphos in Cyprus was really amazing with some fantastically preserved mosaics. At the moment my most visited historical site is Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire, owned by the National Trust, which has some amazing Neo-classical murals based on classical mythology that I was so blown away by I’m giving a talk about them!

What are my other interests outside archaeology?

I’m about to embark on a PhD in Classics so do enjoy history more generally; luckily for the rest of the PAS West Midlands team I also enjoy baking, and gardening where I grow a lot of my ingredients!

Volunteers’ Week – Meet our Team

Andrew

Why did I start volunteering for the PAS?

(January 2019). I came to volunteering via detecting. I had been a lurker on Twitter and saw the post for volunteer advertised on my local FLO’s Twitter feed. I hadn’t thought about volunteering before this. I have never found much while detecting but had seen some remarkable finds by members of my local club. I would try to investigate some of these finds further but with limited success. I became more and more interested in the finds.

What period of the past most interests me?

Difficult to say. I tend to become interested in the period defined by the object I’m recording at any one time!

Which objects most interest me?

I am intrigued by the different ways the spring and pin were wired into the  head of a Roman brooch. I also love the detective work needed to identify and classify Medieval coins, (say) an Edward penny. Not keen on flints or pottery: I wouldn’t know where to start.

Which of the finds I have recorded is my favourite?

I have a soft spot for one of my earliest finds (although I didn’t record it) a Charles I silver shilling. I have also found a sestertius of Trajan not far from the river Trent.

WMID-C22743, A copper-alloy Roman sestertius of Trajan (AD 98-117), dating to the period AD 98-117 (Reece period 5). Mint of Rome.

What is my favourite historical site or monument?

The Battle of Hopton Heath took place just outside Stafford. I have detected all round the defined battle field. Lots of contemporary buttons and buckles but no hoards!

What are my other interests outside archaeology?

Off road biking (mainly Cannock Chase), computers, air shows, the countryside. Always watch ‘Gold Rush’ and ‘Gold Divers’ on the Discovery channel!

Volunteers’ Week – Meet our Team

Becky

Why did I start volunteering for the PAS?

I wanted to study to be an archaeologist when I left school but things never quite went to plan.  Throughout my early teens I was obsessed with ancient history and in particular Egyptology.  Encouraged by my Dad, who loved to talk about ancient Egypt and the Incas, I would avidly read books and watch TV programmes on the subject.  Aged 13, I was fortunate enough to go on a school trip taking in sights such as Ephesus, Delphi, Giza and Cairo where I visited the Tutankhamun exhibition, (He was up there with Duran Duran for me in those days!) which made a lasting impression.  30 years later, I decided to take a taster course in Archaeology with the University of Leicester and wanted to find a pastime that would enable me to continue learning.  I saw an email from BMAG, looking for volunteers for PAS and decided to apply, not really thinking I would get the call. I was thrilled when I was called in for an interview and got the role. 

What period of the past most interests me?

There are so many to choose from.  I love ancient history but since joining PAS, I’ve developed a fondness for Roman and Medieval periods as well.   Recording objects that reflect the minutiae of a past, everyday life, brings you closer to that period and makes you think about the human aspect and the context in which the object was used.

Which objects most interest me?

Sadly all objects interest me! From horse shoes to spindle whorls, but I particularly like jewellery and coins/tokens.  I haven’t recorded much jewellery but I like that they are usually personal items that would have been worn and loved by a person.  Most of the coins I’ve identified have been difficult to read, so it always feels like an achievement to find out their identities and the stories behind them.

Which of the finds I have recorded is my favourite?

A Bronze aged knife – A fan shaped blade with a beautiful green patina.  There was a piece of wood still in the socket.  It is incredible that I could hold something that old. 

WMID-C17B89, Late Bronze Age socketed leather working knife made from copper alloy.

What is my favourite historical site or monument?

Again there are so many, but probably Ephesus in Turkey.  I remember being star struck as a 13 year old, after being told Anthony and Cleopatra drove along the Arcadian Way.

What are my other interests outside archaeology?

I love the countryside and walking. We have a Golden Retriever who likes to take us out to greet his public and two cats that enjoy eating out and bringing their food home – usually alive. I also like crafting, quizzes and visiting art galleries.

Volunteers’ Week – Meet our Team

Jane

Why did I want to volunteer?    In January 2019 I was looking for an opportunity to volunteer in a conservation project and found the answer at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery with the Portable Antiquities Scheme.  It has been so much fun and as a volunteer I have been encouraged to learn about the many different artefacts we are brought by the detectorists, each one is part of our social history.  You wonder who has handled the objects, who created them, what they were for, how they may have evolved into modern items used today – clothing items, domestic utensils, metal objects, coins etc.  So it is very much a learning, hands-on role, and we have been given many opportunities to go on training courses, visit the British Museum and to handle real treasure!

Favourite historical period?  I think post medieval, (AD 1509-1660) as this period seems to be very much about Britain evolving and developing.

Favourite place?  We recently visited Windsor castle, which has so much history, with its beautiful state rooms, art, grounds and is a majestic historic family home.  We went on a beautiful Autumn day, and all the visitors seemed to be enthralled by what they were seeing. 

WMID-9EE891 Post Medieval apple corer

Favourite find?  The little apple corer/pastry jigger (ref WMID-9EE891).  I can imagine it being used in a post-medieval kitchen!  The find is a complete Post-Medieval/ Early-Modern copper alloy probable apple corer, consisting of the tongue-shaped utensil end and rectangular-sectioned shank. It measures 49.19mm in length, 14.34mm width at utensil end and weighs 5g.

The utensil is light brown/green coloured, with the end U-shaped in cross-section and a serrated edge. The outside surface is decorated with inverted and narrowing V-shaped grooves, extending from the edge serrations, and a pair of transverse grooves closer to the narrower end. 

There are similar items on the PAS database, some made from sheeps bone.  Two personal comments made by PAS FLOs give a greater history of the apple corers/cheese scoops/pastry jiggers:

Kate Sumnall, FLO, comments: ‘There are bone scoops recorded from excavations in London which traditionally are known as apple corers, cheese scoops, etc.’ (pers.comm. 2013). Peter Reavill, FLO, adds: ‘A number of Medieval apple corers made from the front legs of sheep were discovered during the Canterbury Whitefriars excavations – all from pits associated with the friary and businesses outside the friary’ (pers.comm. 2013).

Bucket list find?  A beautiful piece of gold jewellery!  We can but dream!

What are my other interests outside archaeology?

I love to make things, particularly curtains, cushions, reupholstery, renovating clothes – you can see the theme of conservation  I have spent lockdown making curtains for my daughter-in-law, grand-daughter and even for my own home (when time permits!).  Gardening is also a great love.  And family history.

Celebrating Volunteers’ Week 2020 – Meet our team

Bob

Why did I start volunteering for the PAS?

When I was volunteering at Aston Hall, I needed a volunteering role that had more flexible hours, so when an opportunity to join the PAS team came up, I went to BMAG for an interview. During the interview I failed to identify an Elizabeth I silver sixpence, despite a very obvious date and the monarch’s name on the obverse inscription. At that moment, I knew that the team would not be able to manage without me.

What period of the past most interests me?

Despite the actual horrors and turmoil of The English Civil War, the romantic image of dashing cavaliers and brutish, warty roundheads appealed to me, much like cowboys and indians, cops and robbers, and so on. Also, I think Charles I is one of the most fascinating monarchs, and the more I find out about him and his devoted queen, the more I want to learn.

Which objects most interest me?

I know very little about Archeology as a science. I suppose I enjoy objects where I recognise the historical period. The older the objects get, the harder I am able to identify with them.

Which of the finds I have recorded is my favourite?

WMID-40AF69 An almost complete magistral bulla of the Grand Master of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (also called the Knights Hospitallers), of Late Medieval to Early Post Medieval dating (AD 1462 to AD 1540). 

My favourite object is a lead magistral bulla of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller. Its history is deep and fascinating. Made from a humble and lacklustre material, it is such a powerful object in terms of its potential as an official seal. The imagery on the obverse and reverse is based on traditional beliefs and has a real elegance.

What is my favourite historical site or monument?

One place I keep returning to is the National Trust property at Baddesley Clinton, just outside Solihull. There is something about the hotchpotch building, with its enclosed courtyard, and its mixture of surface decoration. It appears to float on water rather than be surrounded by a moat. 

What are my other interests outside archaeology?

I have enjoyed arts and crafts for as long as I can remember, and have probably had a go at just about everything there is to have a go at.

My other love is music. My wife is a pianist and cellist, and my daughter is a violinist, so I am surrounded by wonderful sounds. As the non-musician in the family, I play electric guitar. I am a big fan of the blues, but, more generally, I just love the sound of an electric guitar.

A virtual lockdown museum

This post is inspired by The Museum of London’s Collecting Covid project which aims to acquire both physical objects and first hand experiences of living in lockdown London.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme West Midlands office is based at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and like London, Birmingham has seen empty streets, cafes, trams & trains and of course our museum galleries.

We are not sure at the moment when we will be able to get back to our beloved yellow office, a bright and cheery space at the home of The Staffordshire Hoard, one of the most important collection of Pre-Raphelite paintings in the world and the permanent exhibition of Birmingham, Its people, its history which is where we could imagine our Covid objects being placed in the future.

Our team of volunteers have shared the objects that they would include. We already knew we had a talented group of people volunteering for the Portable Antiquities Scheme in the West Midlands. We now know of their other super musical and crafting talents.

Aimee

The first piece of knitting I’ve ever got past a few rows and it’s only the free time permitted by the lockdown that’s allowed me to sit and learn properly!

Bob

I thought I’d share a picture of my worktable, which has given me some solace during lockdown. I’ve spent a lot of time here, trying to be creative, but mostly trying to be quiet, as my wife teaches in the room below, and my daughter works in the room next door. Now, you might think it looks a bit cluttered, but I can always find some space to work. If I had a bigger table or more storage, I probably wouldn’t work any differently.

Becky

I’m teaching myself the electric piano, the advantage being that you can use headphones and not disturb significant others.  I find playing scales very mindful and relaxing – learning to read music not so much! If I can play a piece from beginning to end eventually I’ll be very happy.

Jane

I bought this sewing machine when I got married for £10, 50 years ago!  It is a sturdy, no-frills machine that just keeps on going.  Over the years I have made clothes and curtains and upholstery and during the last few weeks I have been doing curtains for my daughter-in-law and granddaughter (using Facebook and WhatsApp to work out what is needed!) and loose covers and cushions for myself.  I took the photo with some of the fabrics I have been working with – I love rich colours and patterns.  I will always then have the items I have created as a reminder of this strange time.

and myself

I would include this muffin tray. I have been enjoying the time to do lots of baking with my one year old son. He enjoys making a mess and covering the kitchen worktop in flour.

#MuseumFromHome

As part of this exciting day of activities organised by BBC Arts I have produced a small presentation about a Roman Polden Hill brooch. We see many of these brooches, discovered by metal detectorists. In fact there are over 3,000 recorded on our database.

In this presentation I discuss a specific example on display at my workplace, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. My hope is you will understand a little more about this specific brooch type and come and visit it in Gallery 36 once we are open again. 

The brooch is displayed with the foot at the top and the head from which the pin extends at the bottom. It is believed they were worn like this to fasten clothing together, such as a tunic. One theory is that they were worn this way as it stopped the fabric of the garment gathering up, so the orientation was mainly for aesthetic reasons. They often now have a green coloured surface patina that has developed due to oxidisation. If you imagine in their original state they would have been a shiny magnificent copper colour. There are also examples made of silver that have been gilded and some of the bronze versions also have enamel detailing along the bow.
Polden Hill is the name of a place in Somerset where a large number of these brooches were discovered. In fact, despite these brooches being named after a site in the South West with the help of PAS data it is believed they may originate from the West Midlands. The large distributions of the brooches are evident on this map which shows the high concentration in the area around the Severn and Avon Valley’s. We can also begin to see clusters of finds close to known Roman sites in the Midlands such as Wroxeter, Wall, Droitwich and Alcester.
Detectorists have also found the lead patterns here in the midlands that would have been used in the manufacture of these brooches adding weight to the argument that this particular type of brooch was probably manufactured in the area The pattern was formed from lead so that a two-piece mould could be created around the object in clay. Molten bronze could then be poured into the mould to produce the copper alloy versions that are more commonly found. It is thought that the clay moulds were only used once; however, the pattern provided a method for producing these brooches on a much larger scale.
These brooches are dated to 80 -120 AD. So this is some 37 years after the Roman invasion of Britain. To put the brooch in to context, AD 80 is the same year that the Colosseum was completed in Rome by the Emperor Titus. The end of the period when this type of brooch was produced Hadrian ruled,  who famously commissioned the building of a wall in the north in AD 122.

You never know what you might find doing a spot of gardening, but what should you do if you find an object on your own land?

The large majority of finds recorded by The Portable Antiquities Scheme are discovered by metal detectorists, however we also see artefacts found by members of the public and gardeners. You may recall the object voted number one in the series entitled Britain’s Secret Treasures was a Lower Paleolithic flint handaxe made more than half a million years ago found by a man walking his dog along a beach in Norfolk.

This gold mourning finger ring dating to circa AD 1600 to 1800 is not a hugely unusual find across the country. In fact over one hundred have been reported as treasure across the country under the Treasure Act 1996. Memento Mori finger rings and were popular from 16th to 18th centuries and were made to memorialise the dead but also to keep reminders of one’s own mortality. They are often engraved with skulls and have mottos inscribed within the hoop. This one for example reads: “Live Holy and dye happy“. They may also be inscribed with the initials of the person that has passed along with the date.

For more information regarding the ring visit www.finds.org.uk record number: WMID-6ABC41

Perhaps slightly unusual is the fact that this ring was discovered in a back garden in Birmingham. You may think if you find something in your back garden that you as the landowner will be entitled to keep it. However this is not the case if a single object is of precious metal such as this finger ring, then it must be declared to the local coroner within 14 days of discovery. The easiest way to do this is to contact your local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) who will complete all the paperwork on your behalf. They will write to the Treasure Team based at the British museum and the local coroner with the information of the find plus when and where it was found. Your local FLO will photograph your find and then in most cases write the specialist report, this is then used by the coroner to make a decision regarding if the object qualifies to be declared treasure or not. If you are unsure if to declare an object then you can always contact your local FLO, information can be found at www.finds.org.uk on the contact page

If a local museum is interested in acquiring the object and the coroner declares it treasure at inquest that means that the Crown is then formally regarded as the owner of the item. The next phase is that it will then be valued by The Treasure Valuation Committee. Once the interested museum pays the agreed valuation, unless the reward is waivered which is encouraged, then the title is regarded to have transferred from the Crown to that museum.

Besides single objects such as finger rings, brooches and thimbles to name a few; if you discovered two or more coins found together of gold or silver content or 10 or more base metal coins found together which can be dated to over 300 years old then these must also be declared. For all the relevant information regarding the items that constitute treasure see the treasure page at www.finds.org.uk

Finally, although you are not obliged to record non treasure items we are interested to see those other items you may find. The majority of objects we record on the database do date to over 300 years old, however we have recorded other items such as World War One medals that have been lost and have local historical value. In some cases members of the original owners family have been traced and the objects have been returned to the family. So if in doubt regarding the age of your object please get in touch with us.

Victoria Allnatt and Teresa Gilmore
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Chamberlain Square, Birmingham, West Midlands, B3 3DH. Telephone: 0121 348 8225