Portable Antiquities Annual Report 2020

A copy of the report can be downloaded as a PDF here.

In July 2020, the British Museum announced that the Portable Antiquities Scheme had recorded over 1.5 million finds. This is a testament to the work of the Scheme throughout England and Wales, including its Finds Liaison Officers, the Welsh Archaeological Trusts, other PAS staff, interns and volunteers, and (of course) the finders and landowners. The partnership nature of the Scheme is one of its strengths, and I would like to express my gratitude to all the local and national organisations involved, especially those represented on the Portable Antiquities Advisory Group and employing and managing PAS staff. We have a vision for the PAS looking to 2025 which will help set its direction over the next few years and many exciting things are planned. This includes the Government's reform of Treasure law which will have an impact on the PAS, not least because the Scheme (working through the British Museum and AmgueddfaCymru -National Museum Wales) is integral to the working of the Treasure Act 1996. While recognising that hobby metal-detecting is enjoyed by many people in England and Wales, it is essential that it is practiced in a responsible way that adds to knowledge for the widest public benefit and that the most important archaeological finds are acquired by public collections to be enjoyed by all. To this end we will be working closely with DCMS and offering all the support we can.

2020 was an incredibly challenging year for all of us, but the Portable Antiquities Scheme, thanks to its online database, national partnership and the hard work of its staff, was able to adapt well to the circumstances - recording almost 50,000 finds including processing over 1,000 Treasure cases. Although it is the nature of the Scheme that its staff like to meet with finders in person and examine their discoveries closely 'in the flesh', Finds Liaison Officers were able to record many more items than might have otherwise been possible thanks to a number of finders providing good images, dimensions and findspot information. Longer-term we are keen to explore some of the benefits of digital liaison and recording, not least as part of the legacy of the National Heritage Lottery Fund supported project, PASt Explorers: finds recording in the local community. PASt Explorers showed that many finders - such as our self-recorders (metal-detectorists trained to log finds directly on to the PAS database) - are keen to contribute more to the recording process given the opportunities and tools to do so. Also, we are aware it is not always convenient for finders to visit Finds Liaison Officers in person, so finding new ways to reach out is important. That said, it is essential for the integrity of the data, and its use for academic study in particular, that it is of the highest standard possible, and many finds need to be seen by our team of experts for them to be properly recorded.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have supported the Portable Antiquities Scheme in 2020. The National Lottery Heritage Fund continued to support the aforementioned PASt Explorers project. Though this project ended in April 2021, its legacy aspects will continue to support PAS volunteers in the future. For many years the Headley Trust has funded PAS Interns, and I am pleased to say this will continue from 2021 for two more years with a focus on providing opportunities for people from disadvantage backgrounds interested in archaeological finds. Graham and Joanna Barker have continued to generously support the Scheme locally, with funding directed towards areas with less resources for recording finds and to shore-up our team of National Finds Advisers. I would also like to thank Treasure Hunting magazine who published the popular book Finds Identified 2 (published in 2020) and support the publication of this report. Also fundamental to the funding of the PAS is the DCMS, through its grant-in-aid to the British Museum, and the local partners who provide in-kind and cash support for locally based PAS posts. Thank you all for helping this wonderful Scheme thrive and develop.

Hartwig Fischer,
Director of the British Museum