1.5 Million Find: A Yorkshire Retrospective

In July 2020 the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) reached the amazing milestone of recording 1.5 million objects.

In its 23 year history numerous people have contributed to the success of the PAS. This is not only Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs), but volunteers, interns and students, without whom this immense achievement would not have been possible. The finders who have volunteered objects for recording have also played an integral part in helping to increase our knowledge of the archaeological record of England and Wales.

To celebrate this achievement this post will highlight some favourite finds from North and East Yorkshire.

Yorkshire has two FLOs. The North and East Yorkshire post was established in 1996 and is based at the Yorkshire Museum, while the FLO post for South and West Yorkshire, established in 2004, is based at the West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service.

The Records

In York we’ve recorded over 38,000 objects & coins. As the graph below shows 40% of these are Roman, 25% and 20% are medieval and Post-Medieval respectively. The Prehistoric period, Palaeolithic to Iron Age, is represented by just 7% of the finds recorded. The reasons for such differences in numbers are many and varied. This could lead us down a rabbit hole from which we may never return, so I won’t tackle them now. Some reasons for variations in the numbers and distributions of archaeological objects that have been recorded are discussed here though: https://finds.org.uk/research/advice

Below, I will highlight just one object from each period. No mean feat given the wealth of material I have to chose from.

Palaeolithic flint hand axe (YORYM-818451)

Only seven Palaeolithic objects have been recorded with the PAS from Yorkshire, including this flint hand axe. Mined from prehistory onwards, flint was used for the manufacture of the oldest known tools.

Tools such as this hand axe were created by taking a flint nodule and striking small flakes off it until the desired shape was achieved, a process known as ‘knapping’. They were used for a variety of purposes, such as butchery, digging, harvesting plants and chopping wood.

Palaeolithic flint hand axe – YORYM-818451

Mesolithic flint Microlith (YORYM-BC4031)

Small flint blades, known as Microliths, are a characteristic tool type of the Mesolithic period. Long, thin pieces of flint were carefully removed from a core by applying controlled pressure, known as pressure-flaking, to shape the piece, leaving visible scars on the edges. Groups of these tiny flints would have been used together to form composite tools. These small and light blades were a perfect accompaniment to the nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle of the Mesolithic.

Mesolithic flint Microlith – YORYM-BC4031

Neolithic stone axehead roughout (YORYM-55A842)

An evolution in the production of axeheads emerged into the Neolithic period which saw these objects being highly polished at the end of the shaping process. This resulted in a smooth, glossy and tactile finish.

This example though is unfinished. It did not make it to the polishing part of its production. We can’t know the reason for this piece remaining unfinished but the final stage of an axeheads production at this time are thought to have taken place away from the quarry site.

The axehead is made from a grey-green fine-grained siliceous tuff – a sedimentary volcanic rock possibly from the Great Langdale quarries in Cumbria. This stone was most probably chosen for its colour and fineness which allowed it to be highly polished. It is likely that axeheads such as this were high status and probably not functional. If functional however the axehead would have been hafted to an organic handle or haft. Axe heads made of Langdale stone have been found throughout England and represent important evidence for the exchange of goods and materials in the Neolithic period.

Neolithic stone axehead roughout – YORYM-55A842

Bronze Age flint barbed and tanged arrowhead (YORYM-B4DC69)

This barbed & tanged arrowhead is a distinctive Bronze Age type finely shaped by pressure-flaking. They are generally triangular with two small notches chipped into the base to form the central tang and flanking barbs. The tang was used to secure the arrowhead to its shaft and the barbs prevented the arrow being dislodged from its target. If removed, these sharp projections would cause a vicious wound, ensuring the hunters did not have far to track their prey.

Bronze Age flint barbed and tanged arrowhead – YORYM-B4DC69

Iron Age copper-alloy mount (YORYM-C0BAAA)

This is a really unusual object and we don’t really know what it is but it appears to be unique. It has features in common with a number of objects of Iron Age date including a figurine head SOMDOR-DC9D32 from Dorset, a vessel mount from Kent (KENT-9AF2C1) and a pin from Hampshire (HAMP-997D86). While clearly serving different functions the distinct similarities with each of these objects do support an Iron Age date. A particularly notable parallel is also seen in the handle of the North Grimston sword.

Iron Age copper-alloy mount – YORYM-C0BAAA

Roman copper-alloy and enamel patera (YORYM-20B68C)

A wide variety of copper-alloy vessels were available in the Roman period, of which the patera is just one example. Patera could however perform a number of functions. Some patera used to contain liquids for ceremonial, sacrificial or domestic purposes. Very elaborate vessels such as the Staffordshire Pan (WMID-3FE965) were non-functional and are likely to have been souvenirs of Hadrian’s Wall or commemorative issues awarded to an individual. On the other hand, simpler forms were carried by roman soldiers as part of their standard kit and used as general cooking and eating utensils.

This stunning example is decorated with enamel & bears the inscription “VTERE FELIX” meaning “Use in happiness”. This featured on various Roman objects such as rings, buckles, brooches, spoons & military dress as an invocation of good luck.

Roman copper-alloy and enamel patera – YORYM-20B68C

Early-Medieval gold, silver and iron hoard (YORYM-CEE620)

I’ve sung the praises of the Bedale Hoard a number of times in the past, and fairly recently in another blog post, so I won’t go on about it too much here. It remains however one of the most significant finds I have ever had the privilege to be a part of.

Comprising an iron & gold sword pommel & associated fittings, a selection of silver jewellery & 29 silver ingots the Bedale Hoard highlights the extent of the Viking world with Scandinavian, Irish & Russian influences evidenced in the jewellery. This broad range of cultural influences apparent within the hoard stresses the cultural connections between Jorvik and the rest of the Viking world.

The Bedale Hoard was discovered in a part of Yorkshire where very little is known about in the Viking period. As such, it represents a new and exciting piece of evidence that offers a unique insight into life in the region one thousand years.

Early-Medieval gold, silver and iron hoard – YORYM-CEE620

Medieval silver seal matrix (YORYM-13A179)

Seal matrices are common medieval objects which were used to make an impression in wax to seal a document or authenticate a signature.

This particular example is interesting as it is set with a reused Roman intaglio. The intaglio is made of a red stone, and the design, a winged Victory facing a seated figure (possibly Jupiter) matches the legend which reads ‘Secret Messenger’ suggesting the matrix was made to fit with the intaglio’s design.

Ancient gems were commonly reused in personal seal matrices throughout the medieval period. It is unclear exactly how Roman intaglios came to be reused in such quantities, although it is possible that they were found locally by peasants working the land and passed to their lords. It is equally possible that they were imported specifically. The way in which intaglios were viewed and interpreted by medieval people shows the continuing impact of one civilisation on another.

Medieval silver seal matrix – YORYM-13A179

Post-Medieval lead hornbook (YORYM-FA8FF1)

This lead hornbook reflects increased literacy in the Post-Medieval period as it represents a form of teaching aid. ‘Real’ hornbooks were large tablets, with paper bearing a text to be learnt, usually the Lord’s Prayer or alphabet. Small versions like this are mass-produced and often have errors making them unhelpful for teaching. It has been suggested they are toys that mimic hornbooks for children in poorer or less-educated families, or even that they were hornbooks owned by dolls.

The reverse inscription on this example reads, ‘Thomas of other good art made me. 1670’, but is oddly produced in a mixture of English and Latin. It is unusual to have any text on the reverse of toy hornbooks.

Post-Medieval lead hornbook – YORYM-FA8FF1

Find your favourites

Those are just a few of my favourite objects which I have been privileged to work on during my time as FLO for North and East Yorkshire but there are so many more wonderful things to be explored. Why not take a look yourself and pick out some of your favourites: https://finds.org.uk/database/myscheme/myinstitution