Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) Vision 2025

The PAS records archaeological finds discovered by the public, to advance knowledge, tell the stories of past communities and further public interest in the past. It is a partnership, managed by the British Museum (BM) in England and hosted through Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales (AC-NMW) in Wales, working with 98 national and local organisations, and delivered through its network of 40 locally based Finds Liaison Officers and supported by key staff at the BM and AC-NMW, as well as the Welsh Archaeological Trusts (in Wales), National Finds Advisers (in England), interns and community volunteers.

Key Achievements (2016-2020)

  • The PAS has recorded over 1.5 million archaeological finds discovered by the public on its online database, of which 361,601 were recorded in the last 5 years. These have helped to reinterpret our understanding of Britain's past.
  • Over 17,434 Treasure finds have been reported via the PAS, of which almost 40% have been acquired by 224 museums across England, Wales and Northern Ireland for public benefit; 5,864 of these were found in the last 5 years.
  • PAS data is important for archaeological research, and has been used in at least 774 research projects, including 29 pieces of large-scale research and 161 PhDs. This has included landscape studies, as well as individual site and artefact studies.
  • The PAS has engaged directly with over 124,038 people in the last 5 years, and increased its ability to do this through National Lottery Heritage Fund funding. 'PASt Explorers: finds recording in the local community' has expanded its volunteer base in England, providing new opportunities for people to get involved in archaeology. 'Saving Treasures; Telling Stories' has helped museums across Wales acquire archaeological finds, deliver community projects and enabled a sharing of expertise.
  • The PAS database and websites have been visited by over 1,760,479 unique visitors in the last 5 years, making 3,549,255 visits, with over 28,902,269 page requests. In 2018 the PAS database was refreshed, and its servers moved to 'the cloud'. Work was also undertaken to understand user requirements and the technical feasibly of a new database.
  • PAS data is used by 56 Historic Environment Records (HERs) and other organisations to help manage, protect and preserve the historic landscape for future generations and better inform archaeological survey and investigation.
  • The Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales - which provides a baseline of best practice for those searching for archaeology - was revised in 2017, and new Conservation Guidance was also produced. PAS Guidance for Landowners has also been updated and summarised as a leaflet.
  • The PAS provides a model for other finds recording systems in Europe, including DIME (Denmark), FindSampo (Finland), MEDEA (Flanders) and PAN (Netherlands), and is a member of the European Public Finds Recording Network (EPFRN).

Our vision and aims

The PAS seeks to transform knowledge and understanding of the archaeology and history of England and Wales through the recording of archaeological finds discovered by the public.

In order to do this the PAS:

  • promotes the reporting and preservation by record of portable antiquities for the benefit and wellbeing of present and future generations; • encourages best practice by finders/landowners and archaeologists/museums in the discovery, recording and conservation of finds made by the public;
  • in partnership with museums and others, raises awareness of the importance of recording archaeological finds in their context and facilitates research in them;
  • creates partnerships between finders and museums/archaeologists to increase participation in archaeology, thereby advancing our understanding of the past;
  • supports the Treasure Act 1996 and increases opportunities for museums to acquire archaeological finds for public benefit. Our approach The PAS brings together archaeologists, museum curators, finders and landowners, in a common understanding that through the recording of archaeological finds discovered by the public we create a permanent record that advances our understanding of the past, which can be shared with present and future generations.
  • The PAS is a partnership project, managed by the British Museum (BM) in England and through Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales (AC-NMW) in Wales. Its aims and objectives are delivered through its network of national and local partners, guided by the Portable Antiquities Advisory Group (in England) and the PAS Cymru Advisory Board (in Wales). The membership of both groups comprises national stakeholders, and there is linkage between the two.
  • Through its network of 40 locally based Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs) and in Wales also working through the regional archaeological trusts, supported by local partners, the PAS provides high quality advice to all finders about archaeological finds that they discover and wish to learn more about.
  • The work of the FLOs and other staff, as well as interns and volunteers, is supported by key staff at the BM and AC-NMW, and a team of National Finds Advisers (in England), as well as other experts (archaeologists, curators, scientists and educators) based in institutions across England and Wales.
  • The PAS works closely with finders and volunteers to ensure that as many finds as possible are recorded on its online database, and that this data is made available - free-to-use - for the benefit of all, especially to advance archaeological knowledge and our understanding of the past.
  • The PAS connects the BM, AC-NMW and local partners with a breadth of audiences across England and Wales, working hand-in-hand with museums and other stakeholder organisations to engage with local people about archaeological finds.
  • The PAS highlights partnership working, with the BM, AC-NMW and local partners joining together to deliver a service that is both locally bespoke, and fostering an ethic and commitment based on agreed core aims.

Our Strategic Objectives

There are five strategic objectives for the PAS, which provide the framework for specific goals looking to where it will be in 2025:

  • Transform archaeological knowledge through the recording and research of public finds, to enable the stories of past peoples and their landscapes to be told;
  • Sharing new knowledge about archaeological finds made within communities, so that people might learn more about their past, their archaeology and their history;
  • Promote best archaeological practice amongst finder communities, so that the past is preserved and protected for the future;
  • Support museum acquisition of finds made by the public, so that these can be saved for future generations and enjoyed by local people;
  • Provide long-term sustainability for the recording of new finds, so that these discoveries can contribute to the reinterpretation of our histories.

A. Transform archaeological knowledge through the recording and research of public finds, to enable the stories of past peoples and their landscapes to be told

The PAS database provides digital access to over 1.5 million public finds, providing a gateway for all people to learn about and research material culture, and investigate, preserve and protect past landscapes, through time and across England and Wales.

Where we are now:

  • To date, the PAS has recorded over 1,517,000 archaeological finds discovered by the public, including over 17,000 Treasure finds. This data is made available through the PAS database as well as academic and popular publications, and the media.
  • At least 774 research projects have used PAS data. Many of these researchers are based in top universities, both in the UK and abroad; recent AHRC/Leverhulme funded projects using PAS data include 'Warhorse: the archaeology of a military revolution' (Exeter), 'Caerau Hillfort Environs Project' (Cardiff) and 'Living Standards and Material Culture in English Rural Households, 1300-1600' (Cambridge/Cardiff).
  • 56 Historic Environment Records have full access to PAS data for development control work and to enable other types of archaeological investigation and research.
  • PAS has brought to light significant discoveries and new archaeological sites that have led to wider partnerships, further research and public engagement; for example, excavations at Ipplepen (Devon), Little Carlton (Lincolnshire) and Llanmaes (Vale of Glamorgan).
  • The PAS has developed new finds recording guides, recording priorities for archaeological finds that best advance knowledge, and new strategies for recording common non-metallic small finds, such as lithics and pottery.
  • A European Public Finds Recording Network has been initiated to share experiences and expertise of public finds recording, with a common manifesto (2020).

By 2025 the PAS partnership will:

  1. Record archaeological finds for the benefit of all to advance knowledge of the archaeology and history of England and Wales [funded].1Funded' means that this work could be delivered within the existing funding for the PAS.
  2. Enhance the PAS database so that it better serves the needs of all researchers, delivering new high-level search and mapping features [cost £750k+].
  3. Develop targeted frameworks for the recording of public finds, tailored to the diverse needs of users, inspired by national and regional research frameworks and wider finds-type and historic landscape studies [funded].
  4. Create a network of partnerships with universities and others across England and Wales, establishing 'regional research champions', to formalise existing networks and further the understanding of PAS data in academic research [funded].
  5. Identify and develop new opportunities for funded national and local research projects in line with a strategy for PAS research priorities [cost £2k-£1m].
  6. Enhance and develop relationships with local HERs, so that PAS data becomes integral and more readily available for archaeological investigation and research [funded, and within database development].

B. Sharing new knowledge about archaeological finds made by local people within their communities, so that people might learn more about their past, their archaeology and their history

The PAS helps create national and local partnerships between all those interested in archaeological finds with an aim of increasing shared understanding of our past. Key to this is the PAS's network of FLOs and other staff, who (through their host institutions and local links) connect with people across England and Wales, to involve them in archaeology.

Where we are now:

  • The PAS provides local expertise, especially in terms of archaeological finds, supporting local heritage services, including museums and HERs.
  • The PAS has engaged with over 124,038 people in the last 5 years, including 11,000 children; it has been particularly successful in breaking down barriers between archaeologists and the metal-detecting community.
  • The PAS communicates its work well through national and local media, as well as via printed publications, online and through social media. Recent finds highlighted this way include an Iron Age chariot burial (Pembrokeshire) a Bronze Age bulla (Shropshire) and a hoard of Tudor coins (Hampshire) found gardening in lockdown.
  • Over 1,760,000 unique visitors have visited the PAS database and website in the last three years, enabling them to learn about new discoveries from their area.
  • PASt Explorers: finds recording in the local community (2014-21) has provided over 170 training sessions, recruited more than 600 volunteers, who have recorded over 100,000 finds on the PAS database.
  • Saving Treasures; Telling Stories has helped acquire over 150 finds, profile PAS Cymru, deliver six community projects, and share expertise with local museums across Wales.
  • The BM's National Programme has highlighted the work of PAS through touring exhibitions, such as Vikings (2017-19) and Hoards (2018-19).

By 2025 the PAS partnership will:

  1. Continue to reach out to local people to share learning and experiences about public finds recorded with the PAS or reported Treasure [funded].
  2. Develop a strategic plan to increase the profile of the PAS as a partnership project led by the British Museum and Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, assessing the efficacy and deployment of exhibitions and displays, press and the media [to be costed].
  3. Seek to highlight knowledge gained through the PAS within touring exhibitions, spotlight loans and museum displays on archaeology in England and Wales [funded].
  4. Develop an archaeology public programmes, making better use of the wider PAS partnership to include 'seasons' of educational/outreach activity [funded].
  5. Create an innovative training programme on archaeological finds recording and identification for a wide range of audiences, including heritage professionals, finders and volunteers [funded].
  6. Develop partnerships and broaden opportunities for involvement with archaeological finds across a wider range of communities, supported by the work of the Equality and Diversity group.
  7. Encourage the co-production of archaeological knowledge with user communities.

C. Promote best archaeological practice amongst finder communities, so that the past is preserved and protected for the future

Working with other archaeologists, with the support of finders and landowners, the PAS has an essential role in encouraging archaeological best practice in accordance with the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal-Detecting in England and Wales. Key to this is recovering archaeology with care and the recording of finds and their findspots.

Where we are now:

The Code of Practice for Responsible Metal-Detecting in England and Wales (2017) outlines the minimum requirements for detectorists searching for archaeology.

By 2025 the PAS partnership will:

  1. Consult with finders and others to characterise the nature of metal-detecting in England and Wales, particularly to better understand what motivates or inhibits finders recording their discoveries, and also to help prioritise resources for recording detector finds and identify other approaches to finds recording [funded].
  2. Continue to work with landowners, through the CLA and NFU and others, to highlight the importance of best practice while people are searching their land.
  3. Work with other heritage bodies to develop local protocols and resources for the emergency excavation and processing of in-situ archaeological finds found by the public [funded].
  4. Update PAS guidance on metal-detecting rallies to reflect the shifting and changing nature of metal-detecting as both a hobby and a commercial venture [funded].
  5. Broaden our digital outreach offering, by developing short films and podcasts about the work of the PAS, important finds and archaeological best practice [cost £2k].
  6. Support those promoting a more responsible attitude towards metal-detecting, to give metal-detectorists the skills and expertise they need to add value to archaeology [funded].
  7. Continue to work with and support the DCMS in light of the 2019 consultation on the Review of the Treasure Act 1996 Code of Practice [funded].

D. Support museum acquisition of finds made by the public, so that these can be saved for future generations and enjoyed by local people

It is important that the most significant archaeological finds (including non-Treasure) should be acquired by museums across England and Wales for long-term public benefit, but the reality is that many finds will be retained in private collections. FLOs and other PAS staff are well placed to advise and advocate for the acquisition of these finds and assist the work of museums and others to publicise, interpret and display them. They are also able to provide advice and guidance on how private collections might be transferred to public museums in the future.

Where we are now:

  • 25 FLOs are employed within local museums, and the PAS has regular contact with at least 55 museums across England and Wales.
  • Over 5,842 Treasure finds have been acquired by at least 224 museums for local people to learn about and enjoy in the last 5 years. Not recorded is the acquisition and donation non-Treasure finds.
  • Several museums (not quantified) have displays that highlight the work of the PAS, and many more include Treasure finds acquired through the work of PAS.
  • Besides processing Treasure finds, FLOs are involved with exhibitions and displays that feature the local work of PAS and highlight important discoveries.

By 2025 the PAS partnership will:

  1. Advise museums on collecting policies for Treasure finds; in particular, to support them (especially museums without archaeological curators) with advice in terms of acquiring these finds and offer training as appropriate [funded].
  2. Identify a strategy for advising local museums about important non-Treasure finds that should be acquired, and how that might be realised [funded].
  3. Provide opportunities for the display and interpretation of public finds to highlight their value for understanding the past (see section B, above) [to cost].
  4. Develop guidance for finders on how to best maintain their collections, with associated documentation (including provenance) and how they might donate or bequeath these to local museums in due course [funded].

E. Provide long-term sustainability for the recording of new finds: so that these discoveries can contribution to the reinterpretation of our histories

Government (in England and Wales) strongly supports the work of the PAS, recognising that it is instrumental in delivering the Treasure Act 1996, as well as the recording of non-Treasure finds that would otherwise be lost to archaeological knowledge. Both the BM and AC-NMW are committed to delivering the PAS in England and Wales. In order to achieve our ambitions, we will consider carefully how best to direct, raise and spend funds as part of our partnership work across England and Wales.

Where we are now:

  • The PAS consists of 54 core staff across England and Wales, including FLOs, Finds Advisers and the PAS Central unit at the BM and AC-NMW.
  • The BMs Treasure Team consists of a Treasure Registrar and four Assistant Treasure Registrars (one of whom is part-time). The BM and AC-NMW also provide curatorial, conservation and scientific support, especially to progress Treasure cases.
  • Local partners (across England and Wales) provide considerable cash and in-kind support to the PAS, including managerial support and curatorial expertise.
  • The BM's Information Services maintains the PAS database and has at least 1 FTE member of staff working on supporting and maintaining the database.
  • The BM undertook a Review of the PAS Partnership Model (2018) highlighting the strengths and weakness inherent in the current partnership model.

By 2025 the PAS partnership will:

  1. Fully assess the total partnership contribution (cash and in-kind) to the PAS in England and Wales, so that this might be properly acknowledged and recognised [funded].
  2. Evaluate the relationship between national and local partnerships, fostering collaborative approaches to directing the work of the PAS and its staff [funded].
  3. Explore opportunities for collaborative and consortia-based approaches for delivering the PAS (such as is the case in the West Midlands and parts of the East Midlands and South West) and develop partnerships to support FLOs locally and regionally [funded].
  4. Build resilience by developing strategies to help with forward planning and opportunities for project-based funding, within the context of Spending Review settlements in England and Wales [to cost].
  5. Explore the best mechanisms for those wishing to support the PAS and develop meaningful ways to acknowledge this [funded].
  6. Achieve funding for the development and construction of a new PAS database, with improved search/mapping features and Treasure tracking functionality [see A].
  7. Create a more nuanced framework for measuring the impact and success of the PAS in terms of qualitative and quantitative data [funded].

Michael Lewis (BM), Mark Redknap & Steve Burrow (AC-NMW) 16/6/21