News from the Scheme

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

Published: 9 years ago 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: 9 years ago 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: 9 years ago 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 (

The conference programme and the registration page will be available by the end of August 2012 on the department homepage: 

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PAS Conference 2012

Published: 9 years ago 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: 9 years ago 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: 9 years ago 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:]

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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The Portable Antiquities Scheme announces £150K research project to study its database

Published: 9 years ago Author:

The Leverhulme Trust logoThe Leverhulme Trust has given the British Museum a 3-year Research Project Grant of £149,805 for the project, 'The Portable Antiquities Scheme database as a tool for archaeological research' which starts today. Katherine Robbins, currently completing a Collaborative PhD at the University of Southampton in which she is analysing the data gathered by PAS in three pilot areas (Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and Northamptonshire) will be employed as Research Assistant, with Roger Bland, Keeper, Department of Portable Antiquities & Treasure.

The project will analyse the factors that underlie the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, which currently consists of over 750,000 archaeological objects found by the public across England and Wales. It will analyse the spatial distribution of the data, comparing it with other datasets; it will also survey finders and will produce a report and web resource which will enable the many researchers who use the data to understand the biases in the dataset.

The PAS was founded in 1997 and has operated across England and Wales since 2003: it has a network of 39 locally-based Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs), managed by 4 staff at the British Museum and supported by 5 National Finds Advisers. Over 14,000 metal detectorists and other members of the public have offered finds for recording. The PAS database is providing a rich and detailed source of information with national scope that is available online at It is increasingly used by academic and professional archaeologists to study the past and to inform planning decisions.

However, although 62 PhDs, 12 major research-council funded projects and 109 MA or BA dissertations are known that currently use the PAS database, the data is not being used to its full potential because there has been little detailed research on the nature of the data and some archaeologists do not use it for this reason.

There are wide variations in the frequency of finds recorded on the PAS database from around England and Wales: there are 28.6 objects per km2 from the Isle of Wight, compared with 0.7 per km2 from Devon. The counties of Norfolk and Suffolk account for 20.4% of all finds of Treasure since 1997, but for only 7.0% of the land mass of England and Wales and 4.1% of all Scheduled Monuments. As yet, we do not fully understand how to interpret these variations. Do the concentrations of finds from the Isle of Wight and East Anglia mean that these areas were much richer than other parts of England or do they simply reflect the amount of metal detecting there? There is an urgent need to understand in greater detail the factors that influence the geographical distribution of the data and the relationships between collection practice, artefact type and space. The project will therefore answer the question: what underlying factors govern the spatial distribution of finds recorded by the PAS?

By providing a clear analysis of the factors underlying the dataset, this project will enable the rapidly growing PAS database to be exploited to the full in future research on the archaeology of the UK. The PAS database also provides an unparalleled scale of data that can be used in the study of sample bias in archaeology.

The survey of collection bias among amateur finders will have applications outside archaeology (e.g., in natural history where a great deal of data is gathered by amateurs) and it will also have an impact on studies of similar finds outside England and Wales. The use of spatial statistical analysis on this type of data is also cutting edge and the combination of spatial analysis with a study of finder behaviour has not, to our knowledge, been undertaken in any other field. This study will help to transform the use of the PAS database in research.

Under the supervision of the Principal Investigator (Roger Bland), the Research Assistant (Katherine Robbins) will use techniques already developed in her PhD, which looked at 3 pilot areas only, to extend the study across the whole of England and Wales. Katherine will continue to work with Graeme Earl as a Visiting Fellow in the Archaeological Computing Research Group at the University of Southampton, and continue to be advised by Chris Lloyd from Queen's Belfast.

She will map the PAS database against key archaeological datasets, especially Historic Environment Records, and others that she omitted from her PhD for reasons of time. She will use spatial statistical techniques, within a Geographic Information System, to generate intensity maps of find locations and selected classes of finds. She will explore correlations between the intensity maps and will build a model to incorporate information relating to finder activity and other perceived biases. Robbins will also analyse finder and Finds Liaison Officer practice, using a combination of statistical techniques with qualitative data from questionnaires and surveys.

An academic panel will advise on the project and a conference in spring 2014 will include papers from experts who will analyse and discuss data supplied by the PAS covering a range of periods, artefact types and geographical areas. These will be published online and as a book. There will also be a Report written by Robbins and Bland which will bring together the results of the project to produce a definitive study of the data recorded in the PAS database. This will identify and analyse key features of the data and will define the best ways to present the data, with their inherent biases, in a transparent fashion. This will be a British Museum Research Paper available in print and online. In addition, guidance for researchers on how to interpret the spatial distribution of PAS data will be developed on the PAS website, besides articles in popular magazines and two peer-reviewed journals.

Notes for editors

The Leverhulme Trust was established in 1925 under the Will of the first Viscount Leverhulme. It is one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, distributing funds of some £60 million every year. For further information about the schemes that the Leverhulme Trust fund visit their website at or follow them on Twitter via

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ITV and the British Museum to reveal the 50 greatest treasures discovered by the British public

Published: 9 years ago Author:

In a brand new landmark, 360º series, ITV1 will reveal the extraordinary treasures and historical artefacts discovered by ordinary people that have changed our understanding of British history. The 4x30, 2x60 stripped show, 'Britain's Secret Treasures', [working title] will be produced by ITV Studios, and presented by award-winning journalist Michael Buerk in his broadcasting debut for the channel, alongside historian and author Bettany Hughes, winner of this years distinguished Medlicott Medal for History.

The series will map out the 50 key discoveries recorded by the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme since it was set up fifteen years ago, with the order of the list being determined by Bettany and a panel of experts from the British Museum and The Council for British Archaeology. They'll trawl through the almost one million finds of the last fifteen years whittling them down to the top fifty. Each one will be judged on its national importance, beauty, cultural and historic significance.

Every year, a staggering 90,000 finds are reported to The British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme. These can range from jewellery and religious artefacts, to scraps of colossal Roman statues and ancient coins that revolutionise our understanding of the past. The top fifty list will draw on the best of these including the extraordinary Crosby Garrett Roman helmet found in Cumbria, the Silverdale Hoard of Viking silver that revealed an unknown Viking leader and the Palaeolithic Happisburgh Handaxe perhaps the oldest manmade object found in Britain.

The series will meet the members of the public who discovered these items and provide an insight into new discoveries that happen during the filming period. The programmes are scheduled to transmit in conjunction with The Council for British Archaeology's Festival of British Archaeology: a series of 800 events nationwide that encourage the public to engage with archaeology. will support the series during transmission with an appeal for people to send in photographs of new objects they may have found. These will be assessed by the British Museum and the best new find will be revealed at the end of the final episode of the series.

Roger Bland, Keeper of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum said:

We are delighted to be working with ITVS on this series and are excited about the opportunity it gives us to highlight the work of the British Museums Portable Antiquities Scheme. All the finds featured in the series have been found by members of the public over the last 15 years and show how they really are transforming our understanding of Britains past.

The series is commissioned by Katy Thorogood, Commissioner, Daytime and Factual with Alison Sharman, Director of Factual and Daytime who said:

We are delighted to be working with ITVS and the British Museum on this ambitious project. The public have discovered some extraordinary finds and behind every treasure is a story that illuminates our understanding of Britain's rich and varied history.

The Executive Producers for the series are Ed Taylor and Michael Kelpie, Creative Director, ITV Studios. The Series Producer is Jon Stephens. Michael Kelpie, Creative Director, ITV Studios commented:

Britain's Secret Treasures is a tremendous show about ordinary people who have found extraordinary objects. Through the stories of these amazing objects, we will discover the rich history of Great Britain and bring that history to life using a range of production techniques including CGI, dramatic recreation, rich archive and first person narrative. 

Notes to Editors:

  • The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) is a voluntary scheme (managed by the British Museum) to record archaeological objects (not necessarily Treasure) found by members of the public in England and Wales. Every year many thousands of objects are discovered, many of these by metal-detector users, but also by people whilst out walking, gardening or going about their daily work. Such discoveries offer an important source for understanding our past. More information can be found on
  • All finders of gold and silver objects, groups of coins from the same find, over 300 years old, have a legal obligation to report such items under the Treasure Act 1996. Prehistoric base-metal assemblages found after 1 January 2003 also qualify as Treasure. Potential Treasure finds must be reported by law to the local coroner, which is normally done through the finders¹ local PAS Finds Liaison Officer. If declared Treasure, they may be acquired by a museum at their full market value (normally split 50/50 between finder and landowner), valued by the Treasure Valuation Committee, which is an independent committee of expert. The Treasure Process is administered by the British Museum. More information is available on or
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British Museum Pilgrims’ Badge Display

Published: 9 years ago Author:

To highlight the contribution of the Society of Thames Mudlarks to our understanding of the past, and to coincide with the second series of Mud Men, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has organised a small display on pilgrims' badges in Room 2 of the British Museum.

On display are six pilgrim souvenirs:

  • Our Lady of Willesden (2 examples)
  • Our Lord
  • Henry VI
  • St Thomas Becket
  • a Canterbury Bell;

Two of these badges (of Willesden and the Canterbury Bell) were found during the filming of Mud Men series 2 the others were loaned by Ian Smith (Society of Thames Mudlarks). Also on display is a replica pilgrim badge mould and badges of St Etheldreda and a Canterbury Bell, made by Colin Torode (Lionheart replicas), and one of Colin's carving tools. To highlight the role of pilgrim badges as souvenirs, and also proof of pilgrimage, are also displayed some modern souvenirs.

In the medieval period it was believed that badges touched upon holy shrines would absorb some of the magical powers of the associated saints, and people would travel afar in the hope of the protection of a saint, or be cured of an ailment, disease or absolved of a past sin. From the time of the martyrdom of St Thomas (1170) until the sixteenth century Reformation, pilgrimage was very popular for people from all walks of life, as demonstrated by Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. More pilgrims' badges including a mould of a St Thomas badge can be found in the Medieval Europe gallery (Room 40) of the British Museum.

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Appeal for information on theft of Anglo-Saxon coins

Published: 9 years ago Author:

An example of one of the stolen coinsSt Albans City & District Council is appealing for information following the theft of a number of rare Saxon silver coins from a locked display cabinet in the Medieval Gallery at the Museum of St Albans.

Around 30 coins, with an insurance value in the region of £12,000, were taken on or around the weekend of 7 January 2012. The display case was tampered with and the locks broken. A sixth or seventh century silver hand pin, discovered in excavations at St Albans Abbey, was also taken from the same case.

The coins were part of a hoard of Saxon silver coins found at the Abbey Orchard in St Albans in 1969 during an excavation by the St Albans & Hertfordshire Architectural & Archaeological Society within the area of the monastic buildings attached to St Albans Abbey, prior to construction of the Abbey Primary School.

The museum understands that the coins, buried during a troubled period towards the end of the 9th century, were likely to be the life savings of one individual, who had hoped to return and recover them when the threat of attack had lessened.

The coin hoard contained a selection of Saxon pence and half pence coins. The pence coins are all of the Lunette type, so-called because the moneyer's name appears on and between the two half moon shaped ornaments on the reverse. The one half-penny is of the London monogram reverse type which is usually associated with Alfred's occupation of London in 887.

Richard Shwe, Head of Community Services at St Albans City & District who has responsibility for the museum service said:

"The loss of these items is a blow for the museum, and indeed for local people. The rare silver Saxon coins are part of the heritage of St Albans. We are appealing to the public to let the police know if they are offered any of the items stolen or if they have any information that will lead to their recovery. The Police non-emergency number to call is 101, and the Crimestoppers number is 0800 555 111."

The police are currently investigating the thefts. In the meantime, the Council has closed the upstairs gallery at St Albans Museum in Hatfield Road until the police have finished their work and the damaged locks are replaced.

The Council has also commissioned a security review of its museums in the aftermath of the incident and is investigating the circumstances of the theft.

PC Dean Carpenter is investigating.

Posted on behalf of Hertfordshire Constabulary

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