News from the Scheme

Exciting new finds highlight the ongoing success of the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme

Published: Monday 3rd December 2012 Author:

The launch today of the Portable Antiquities and Treasure annual reports show that 97,509 finds were recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) in 2011 (an 8% rise on the previous year) and 970 Treasure cases were reported in the same period (up by 12%). The PAS website (finds.org.uk) now features 820,000 finds with nearly 400,000 images from across England and Wales contributing enormously to the archaeological record. Last year 463,160 people used the website and database, and it also won best research/online collection at the Best of the Web awards 2011 at the Museums and the Web conference. Increasingly more and more people are becoming aware of the PAS. In July this year Britain's Secret Treasures, which highlighted 50 finds recorded through the PAS, was screened primetime on ITV1 from 16-22 July. The series was watched by an average of 3.5 million viewers, the highest being 4.2 million.

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum said:

"It is clear from the discoveries reported this year that the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme goes from strength to strength. The ITV series this year shows just how much these finds have captured the public's imagination and changed our understanding of the past. It is a scheme which is envied the world over. I am very grateful to the Department for Culture Media and Sport for continuing to support the Scheme and to Treasure Hunting magazine who have continued to publish PAS reports . And to other generous funders such as The Headley Trust, Institute for Archaeologists and the Heritage Lottery Fund who support staff to ensure that the Scheme can continue its vital work. As well as the funding bodies who have helped acquire Treasure finds."

Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, said:

"It never ceases to amaze me that such incredibly important objects have survived in the ground for many hundreds of years, waiting to be found by everyday people. Not only are these objects extremely exiting discoveries, but once reported Treasure or recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme they have great potential to rewrite the history of this country, and enrich local and national museums".

Four exciting new discoveries are to be highlighted at the launch this year:

An extremely rare late Iron Age helmet from near Canterbury, Kent.

The Iron Age helmet

This copper-alloy helmet was found by a metal-detectorist in October 2012, and the findspot subsequently excavated by the Canterbury Archaeological Trust. The helmet had been upturned and used as vessel to hold a human cremation. A brooch found with the helmet probably once fastened a bag containing the bones. Both the helmet and brooch date from the early to mid-first century BC. Julia Farley, Iron Age Curator at the British Museum notes:

"This is a very rare find. No other cremation has ever been found in Kent accompanied by a helmet and only a handful of Iron Age helmets are known from Britain. Therefore we think this example was probably made on the continent and it is fascinating to speculate how it came to be in a grave in Kent."

In the middle of the first century BC, Caesar was at war in Gaul (modern France). But as well as being a time of war, it was also a time of travel, communication, connections and change. Mercenaries from Britain had travelled to join the fighting, and it is tempting to believe that the person who owned this helmet might have fought in Gaul, against the Romans or perhaps even alongside them, eventually bringing the helmet with them to Britain. Before Gaul fell, Caesar would make his first expedition to Britain, landing on the shores of Kent not far from where this helmet was found. The owner of this helmet, or the people who placed it in the grave, may have lived through the very beginning of the story of Roman Britain.

The second largest hoard of Roman solidi (gold coins) ever found in Britain.

The hoard of solidii

The discovery was made by a metal-detectorist near to St Albans, Hertfordshire, and reported to his local Finds Liaison Officer. In October 2012 the findspot was excavated by a team of archaeologists from St Albans City and District Museums Service and altogether 159 coins were recovered. The coins date to the late 4th to early 5th century AD (after AD 408 regular supplies of Roman coinage to Britain ceased) and were mostly struck in the Italian cities of Milan and Ravenna and issued under the Emperors Gratian, Valentinian II, Theodosius I, Arcadius and Honorius. The largest hoard of Roman solidi was found at Hoxne in Suffolk in 1992 and comprised 565 solidi. Richard Abdy, Curator of Roman Coins as the British Museum said:

"This is a hugely exciting find. During the period of the Roman occupation of Britain, coins were usually buried for two reasons; as a religious sacrifice to the Gods, or as a secure store of wealth, with the aim of later recovery. The late date of the coins suggests their burial could have been associated with the turbulent separation of Britain from the Roman Empire c. AD 410".

Threat of war or raids may have led to the burial of the coins, as may the prospect of a long journey, or any other risky activity, which could then result in the non-recovery of a hoard and its consequent survival in the archaeological record. Gold solidi were extremely valuable coins and Roman law did not allow them to be spent in everyday marketplace situations. They would have been used for large transactions such as buying land, or goods by the shipload, and were an especially handy source of portable wealth for travellers (in much the same way as gold sovereigns were to Britons abroad prior to traveller's cheques or internationally accessible bank accounts). Therefore it is likely that the ancient owners of these coins were very rich, typically Roman elite, merchants or soldiers receiving bulk pay.

The hoard will be available to view in the Citi Money Gallery at the British Museum from 4 December.

An important hoard of Viking Age gold and silver metalwork.

the Bedale hoard

In May 2012 Stuart Campbell and Steve Caswell were detecting on farmland near Bedale, North Yorkshire when they found a Viking Age hoard. Much of the material was left by the finders in situ and thereafter recovered by archaeologists from Yorkshire Museums. The hoard consists of an iron sword pommel inlaid with gold foil plaques, four gold hoops (from the hilt of the sword), six small gold rivets (probably from the pommel or hilt), four silver collars and neck-rings, a silver arm-ring, a silver ring fragment, a silver penannular brooch, and 29 silver ingots. Some of the objects, which date to the late 9th to early 10th, are decorated in late Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Scandinavian and Viking art styles. Barry Ager, Medieval Curator at the British Museum said:

"At the time the hoard was deposited the north of England was largely under Viking rule, with their capital at York. So the material in this significant hoard probably represents Viking bullion, either obtained by trade, or plundered or extracted from enemies, which could later be melted down and reused for jewellery, or further exchange." It is likely that those who buried this material intended to come back for it, but for reasons unknown to us they were not able.

The Bedale hoard will be available to view in Room 2 of the British Museum from 4 December.

Intriguing boar mount associated with Richard III.

Board badge from London

Found on the Thames foreshore was this copper-alloy mount in the form of a boar, which was reported to the local Finds Liaison Officer. The mount shows the boar chained, collared and wearing a crown, and it has a crescent (presumably heraldic) above one of its legs.

Michael Lewis, Deputy Head of PAS and Treasure said:

'given the renewed interest in Richard III, after the apparent discovery of his remains in Leicestershire, it is wonderful to have a London find associated with the king. The mount is very similar to a number of boar badges which have been reported Treasure over the past few years, which were made for followers of Richard III (of York), as Duke of Gloucester, during the Wars of the Roses. Richard took the white boar has his sign; 'bore' may have also been an anagram of Ebor, the Latin for York".

Badges in the form of a boar were ordered for use at Richard III's coronation (in July 1485) and also for the investiture of his son, Edward, as Prince of Wales (in September). However, it is not certain what the mount from London came from, maybe a piece of furniture or was used to decorate an item of leather once owned by a supporter of Richard III, or possibly even the king himself.

Notes to Editors:

  • Thousands of archaeological objects are discovered every year, many by members of the public, particularly by people while metal-detecting. If recorded, these finds have great potential to transform archaeological knowledge, helping us understand when, where and how people lived in the past.
  • The Portable Antiquities Scheme (www.finds.org.uk) offers the only proactive mechanism for systematically recording such finds, which are made publicly available on its online database. This data is an important educational and research resource that can be used by anyone interested in learning more.
  • The Portable Antiquities Scheme is managed by the British Museum, and funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport through a ring-fenced grant, the British Museum and local partners. Its work is guided by the Portable Antiquities Advisory Group, whose membership includes leading archaeological, landowner and metal-detecting organisations.
  • Under the Treasure Act 1996 (see www.finds.org.uk/treasure) finders have a legal obligation to report all finds of potential Treasure to the local coroner. The Portable Antiquities Scheme and its network of Finds Liaison Officers play an essential role in the operation of the Act, advising finders of their legal obligations, providing advice on the process and writing reports for Coroners on Treasure finds.
  • The Act allows a national or local museum to acquire Treasure finds for public benefit. If this happens a reward is paid, which is (normally) shared equally between the finder and landowner; interested parties may wish to waive their right to a reward, enabling museums to acquire finds at reduced or no cost. Rewards are fixed at the full market value of the find, determined by the Secretary of State upon the advice of an independent panel of experts, known as the Treasure Valuation Committee.

For further information please contact Hannah Boulton on 020 7323 8522 or hboulton@britishmuseum.org or Claire Coveney on 020 7323 8394 or ccoveney@britishmuseum.org

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Statistical release for treasure (2010 and 2011) and portable antiquities (2011)

Published: Thursday 25th October 2012 Author:

Annual statistics of the number of objects of treasure found in 2010 (and the headline number for 2011) (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and objects recorded through the portable antiquities scheme in 2011 (England and Wales) produced by the British Museum on behalf of DCMS were released on 12 October 2011 according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.

  • Last release date: 12 October 2011 Treasure (2009) and Portable Antiquities statistical release (2009 and 2010
  • Period covered: January 2010 to December 2011 for treasure and January 2011 to December 2011 for portable antiquities
  • Geographic coverage: England, Wales and Northern Ireland for treasure and England and Wales for portable antiquities
  • Next release date: Treasure statistics from 2011 and statistics on portable antiquities from 2012 will be published in the third quarter of 2013

Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs) record finds of treasure and portable antiquities on the Portable Antiquities database.

Report structure/format

The report sets out the latest figures for reported treasure finds for the 12 months to December 2010. It sets out the latest figures for objects reported through the Portable Antiquities Scheme for the last 12 months to December 2011. It also presents objects recorded by geographical area and by period and category of find. The report is available in rtf and pdf format.

Key messages

  • In 2011 970 finds of Treasure were reported. The equivalent number for 2010 was 860.
  • In 2011 97,509 finds were recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The equivalent number for 2010 was 90,099.
  • In 2010 86 parties waived their right to a reward in 70 cases of Treasure, allowing them to be acquired by museums at no (or reduced) public cost.

Pre-release access The document below contains a list of officials who have received privileged early access to this release of Treasure and Portable Antiquities data. In line with best practice, the list has been kept to a minimum.

Contact for enquiries:

Department for Culture, Media and Sport
2-4 Cockspur Street
London SW1Y 5DH
Email: evidence@culture.gsi.gov.uk The responsible analyst for this release is Penny Allen
For enquiries on this release contact: 020 7211 6106
For general enquiries telephone: 020 7211 6000

These documents are available online in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format.

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PAS & MSRG Conference Fully Booked

Published: Thursday 18th October 2012 Author: Claire Costin

This year's joint PAS & MSRG conference Objects and Landscape: understanding the medieval period through finds recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme has been hugely popular and we regret to announce that the conference is now fully booked. We will endeavour to provide details of the day on the PAS website for those that missed out.

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PASt Explorers Re-booted

Published: Friday 14th September 2012 Author: Claire Costin

The PAS website for mini-finders has undergone a mini-makeover!

The website was originally launched in October 2006, specifically designed for children and educators, with lots of activities, games and information on archaeology.

PASt Explorers has been updated to coincide with the recent re-vamp of the Portable Antiquities Scheme website (finds.org.uk/).

There are still loads of things for children to read, colour in, play with and generally have a good old time as Dan Pett, our ICT Adviser and creator of the site puts it!

In addition to updated information on what the PAS and Treasure Act are all about, guide to archaeology and period guides, PASt Explorers features a new database user guide for children and regularly updated news and events.

And of course, there are plenty of games for children (and adults - we won't tell!) to play.

Check it out at www.pastexplorers.org.uk/fun/welcome-child

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From turbines to Tetricus: engineering technology reveals secrets of Roman coins

Published: Wednesday 11th July 2012 Author:

The coins from the scanner

Archaeologists and engineers from the University of Southampton are collaborating with the British Museum to examine buried Roman coins using the latest X-ray imaging technology.

Originally designed for the analysis of substantial engineering parts, such as jet turbine blades, the powerful scanning equipment at Southampton's µ-VIS Centre for Computed Tomography is being used to examine Roman coins buried in three archaeological artefacts from three UK hoards.

The centre's equipment can scan inside objects - rotating 360 degrees whilst taking thousands of 2D images, which are then used to build detailed 3D images. In the case of the coins, the exceptionally high energy/high resolution combination of the Southampton facilities allows them to be examined in intricate detail without the need for physical excavation or cleaning. For those recently scanned at Southampton, it has been possible to use 3D computer visualisation capabilities to read inscriptions and identify depictions of emperors on the faces of the coins - for example on some, the heads of Claudius II and Tetricus I have been revealed.

University of Southampton archaeologist, Dr Graeme Earl says,

"Excavating and cleaning just a single coin can take hours or even days, but this technology gives us the opportunity to examine and identify them quickly and without the need for conservation treatment at this stage. It also has potential for examining many other archaeological objects.

"The University's Archaeological Computing Research Group can then take this one step further - producing accurate, high resolution CGI visualisations based on scan data. This gives archaeologists and conservators around the world the opportunity to virtually examine, excavate and 'clean' objects."

Dr Roger Bland, Head of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum comments, "This scanning technique is already yielding some fascinating results and the possibility of identifying a hoard of coins in a pot, without removing them, is very exciting. Working with archaeologists and engineers at Southampton, it is exciting to be pioneering and exploring the potential of a process which is faster, cheaper and less interventive than excavation."

The three objects examined at Southampton are:

  • A cremation urn containing nine coins, dating from AD282, found in the Cotswolds. This item in particular would take months to excavate - with archaeologists needing to carefully examine bone fragments and remains to extract more information about its past.
  • An estimated 30,000 Roman coins discovered in Bath, dating to around AD270 and concreted together in a large block weighing over 100 kilograms (radiograph image only).
  • A small pot dating to the 2nd century found in the Selby area of East Riding in Yorkshire.

Director of the University's µ-VIS Centre for Computed Tomography, Professor Ian Sinclair says, "Our centre examines a wide variety of objects from the layup of individual carbon fibres in aircraft wing components, to the delicate roots of growing plants, and now ancient Roman coins. It is our integration of state-of-the-art imaging hardware, world-class computing and image processing expertise, which allows us to break new ground.

"We have recently formed an inter-disciplinary research group for Computationally Intensive Imaging, which brings together a broad spectrum of world-class imaging activities from disciplines across the University - of which this project is an excellent example."

The University of Southampton and the owners of the artefacts have plans to share the scan data with the public, hopefully through future exhibitions and online.

Animation showing Computed Tomography of coin hoard and visualisation of the hoard from Digital Economy USRG on Vimeo.

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Inquest into the discovery of a 17th Century Coin Hoard from Bitterley, South Shropshire

Published: Thursday 28th June 2012 Author:

The coin hoard in situAn important coin hoard from the English Civil War has been declared treasure today by Mr. John Ellery, H.M. Coroner for Shropshire. The hoard was discovered by a metal detector user in February 2011.

The hoard was found by Howard Murphy who discovered it on farmland in the Bitterley Area, South Shropshire. Mr Murphy, an experienced metal detectorist, realised that he had found an important find when he revealed the top of a pottery vessel which was filled with silver coins. He knew that he had made a significant discovery and so resisted the temptation to dig the find up himself and instead reported it to Peter Reavill his local Finds Liaison Officer, based with Shropshire Museums. Peter Reavill, who works closely with the metal detecting community in the Marches, organised a rescue excavation to investigate the find and its surrounding.

The excavation was able to establish the archaeological context of the find and enabled the hoard to be recovered under controlled conditions. This showed that the hoard had been placed in the ground relatively swiftly and was buried at a depth that prevented its rediscovery. The vessel and coins were lifted in a block of soil and transported to the British Museum for specialist excavation and conservation.

At the British Museum, the hoard was carefully excavated by staff of the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research. This was a slow and delicate operation revealing the coins that had been hidden for over 350 years. It was only at this stage that the full extent of the hoard was realised. The soil was taken from around the vessel revealing a small glazed four handled drinking vessel called a Tyg. The inside of this was crammed with neatly stacked silver coins. These were carefully removed to see if there was any internal stratigraphy (layering / order). When the coins had been taken out a very fine grained leather purse could be seen lining the inside of the vessel. Leather items like this very rarely survive, especially when buried in the ground, and if the finder had attempted to lift the hoard and remove the coins himself then it is likely that much of this fragile material would have been lost.

The coins were analysed by Dr Cook and staff of the British Museum, who found that there was a single gold coin and 137 silver high denomination (Half Crowns and Shilling) coins within the hoard. The group would have been worth £9 11s and 6d when buried. The earliest coin in the group was from the reign of Edward VI and the latest was from the Bristol Provincial Mint of Charles I which was made between July 1643 and March 1644. This suggests that the hoard was buried at a date after March 1644 most probably within the English Civil War.

Now this find has been declared treasure, it will be valued by the independent committee and Shropshire Museums will have the opportunity of acquiring it for the people of Shropshire subject to securing the necessary grant aid.

Peter Reavill, Finds Liaison Officer, Shropshire and Herefordshire:

"When Howard Murphy found this hoard - he did exactly the right thing in reporting it and asking for help. We were able to recover the hoard and save important information which helps flesh out the story of why it was put in the ground."

Emma-Kate Lanyon, Head of Collections and Curatorial Services for Shropshire Museums:

"This hoard has thrown light on a dark and turbulent period of our relatively recent history. Like all hoards of this nature we ask the question why was such a large amount of money left in the ground and never retrieved. We hope to find the funding necessary to acquire the hoard and ensure it can tell its unique story as part of our seventeenth century gallery at the new Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery when it opens at the Music Hall in late summer 2013".
 

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Tracing the Portable Past - 1st European Iron Age Artefacts Symposium

Published: Wednesday 6th June 2012 Author:

Call for Papers

The EIAAS is organised by postgraduate students of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester in collaboration with the Portable Antiquities Scheme and will take place in Leicester on Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th October 2012.

The event is intended to bring together postgraduate students whose research primarily involves the study of material aspects of the European Iron Age. It will provide a friendly and supportive platform for discussion, led by experts in various fields, and a stimulating environment in which to share results, develop ideas and encourage debate about future directions in the field of Iron Age studies within a cross-boundaries context. As an interdisciplinary gathering, it is open not only to Archaeology and Ancient History students, but contributions from other fields and departments are welcome (such as Museum Studies, Engineering and Chemistry).

Key topics for discussion will be:

  • supply, exchange and circulation of raw materials
  • artefacts production and supply
  • artefacts use, exchange and deposition
  • typologies
  • the social role of objects and their long-term biographies
  • material analysis technologies and methodologies
  • dating methods and technologies
  • theoretical and practical approaches
  • conservation and display of ancient artefacts
  • proposals for future research

Papers should take approximately 15 minutes, plus 5 minutes for questions, and poster presentations are also encouraged.

We welcome submission for abstracts in English of up to 300 words and at least 5 key words. The deadline for submission of abstracts is 30th JUNE, 2012. Please email abstracts and any queries to:

Marta Fanello (mf166@le.ac.uk)

The conference programme and the registration page will be available by the end of August 2012 on the department homepage: http://www.le.ac.uk/departments/archaeology 

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PAS Conference 2012

Published: Wednesday 2nd May 2012 Author:

This year's conference aims to highlight how PAS data have been used to advance knowledge of material culture, and outline the research potential of these data for understanding the medieval landscape.

In contrast to researchers interested in the Roman and Early Medieval periods (in particular) medievalists have not made as much use of PAS data as they might. Although papers presented at this conference will highlight advances in the studies of dress accessories, papal bullae, pilgrim's signs etc., and their distribution, it is apparent that many other artefact types desperately warrant similar academic treatment. Less understood is any sense of the relevance of these artefacts for interpreting the medieval landscape, and it is this which will be considered in the second part of the conference.

Speakers include: Laura Burnett, Anni Byard, Teresa Gilmore, Dr Letty ten Harkel, Richard Kelleher, Dr Kevin Leahy, Dr Michael Lewis, Martin Locker, Dr Tim Pestell, Dr Andrew Rogerson, Dr Eleanor Standley and David Williams.

Stevenson Lecture Theatre, British Museum
Monday 22nd October 2012
09.30 - 17.30

To book a place please send a cheque for £10 payable to 'The British Museum' to Claire Costin, Department of Portable Antiquities & Treasure, British Museum, London, WC1B 3DG.

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Become an archaeologist this summer at Syon Park

Published: Tuesday 24th April 2012 Author:

Kate Sumnall (the London FLO) is part of a team organising a training excavation in London this summer- open to all (over 18's). The course is designed to suit beginners upwards!

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Archaeological Institute of America lectures 2012

Published: Thursday 29th March 2012 Author:

Dr Roger Bland OBE, head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme has been awarded the Archaeological Institute of America's Metcalf lecturership for 2012. 

The Metcalf Lectures are on the subject of numismatics and their role in archaeological research as well as in art and historical research. The donors believe that coins, with their images and legends, are an essential source for any archaeologist dating a site or studying portraiture, architecture, religion or history and desire that numismatics be a part of the lecture program being provided by the AIA. Although much of numismatics is related to the ancient world, the lectures need not be limited to the ancient world as coins are relavant for other areas and times as well. [Source: http://www.archaeological.org/giving/endowments/242]

He will be presenting the following lectures and more details can be found on the AIA website:

  • Wednesday 11/04/2012 -  AIA, Berkeley University
    Coin hoards and hoarding in Britain: buried with the intention of recovery or votive deposits?
  • Friday 13/04/2012 -  AIA, San Diego
    A licence to loot or archaeological rescue? The Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales.
  • Saturday 14/04/2012 - AIA, Los Angeles
    A licence to loot or archaeological rescue? The Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales.
  • Monday 16/04/2012 - AIA, Kansas City
    A licence to loot or archaeological rescue? The Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales.
  • Wednesday 18/04/2012 - AIA, Springfield Ohio
    Coin hoards and hoarding in Britain: buried with the intention of recovery or votive deposits?
  • Friday 20/04/2012 - AIA, Boston, MA
    Coin hoards and hoarding in Britain: buried with the intention of recovery or votive deposits?
  • Sunday 22/04/2012 - AIA, Staten Island, New York City
    Coin hoards and hoarding in Britain: buried with the intention of recovery or votive deposits?
  • Monday 23/04/2012 - American Numismatic Society, New York City
    Coin hoards and hoarding in Britain: buried with the intention of recovery or votive deposits?
  • Wednesday 25/04/2012 - Yale University
    Coin hoards and hoarding in Britain: buried with the intention of recovery or votive deposits?
  • Thursday 26/04/2012 - Harvard Art Museum, Boston, MA
    New light on Roman gold coins found in Britain
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