Suggested research topics on our data


  • Regionalised studies of Roman artefacts: Although Iron Age and early-medieval studies are strongly regionalised, Roman Britain tends to be seen as a continuum. Is this a real picture, or could we find evidence of regional variation to link the Iron Age to the early Anglo-Saxon period? Artefacts to do with personal adornment might be expected to show regional variation, and these might include bracelets, finger rings, nail cleaners, cosmetic sets and mirrors as well as brooches. Undergraduate dissertations could choose a single artefact type and compare the dataset in two counties.
  • Distribution patterns of early Anglo-Saxon wrist-clasps: The distribution of early Anglo-Saxon wrist-clasps within the county of Suffolk shows a very strong boundary within the county, with hardly any found south of the modern A14. There are several questions that can be asked of this pattern. Does it represent a division between the ‘Anglian’ north and the ‘Saxon’ south? Can it be related to the Iron Age tribal background? What happens to the boundary in the neighbouring counties of Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire? Are the most southerly wrist-clasps of the same types as those in the heartland of the distributions?
  • The origins of Classical Greek coins in England and Wales: Classical Greek coins are found in surprising numbers in England and Wales. Are they all post-Renaissance collectors' losses, or could any of them be real Iron Age imports?
  • Pilot studies of Masters' topics: Several of the MA dissertation ideas could be piloted using data from a single county or region.
  • Lead versions of early Anglo-Saxon copper-alloy artefacts: John Hines drew attention to a lead model of a great square-headed brooch found in Geneva many years ago (Hines 1997). Since then, the PAS has recorded 16 examples on the database (as of March 2011). Kevin Leahy (Finds Adviser) has pointed out that lead brooches do not appear to have been found in graves. Is their distribution (Anglian areas only at present) meaningful? Do they contain enough information to work out if they are cheap copies of brooches intended as jewellery, or just models for casting copper-alloy versions?
  • Updating great square-headed brooches: John Hines’s monumental corpus of these early Anglo-Saxon brooches was published in 1997. Since then, the PAS has recorded fragments of over a hundred more examples. How do Hines’s conclusions work when tested against the PAS examples?
  • Images of early Anglo-Saxon gods: It is now accepted that early-medieval Scandinavian objects can be decorated with iconography that reflects the religious ideology of the period. Several mythological figures and scenes have been identified, particularly on bracteates. Can similar identifications be made on early Anglo-Saxon objects, or was pagan mythology not sufficiently systematised? Kevin Leahy (Finds Adviser) has noticed several button brooches and saucer brooches with faces that appear to have one eye treated differently, and this might be a starting point; does a one-eyed Woden, as well as a one-eyed Odin, appears on early-medieval objects?


  • Transition from stone to metal objects in the Bronze Age: Links between flint objects and early metal objects could profitably be explored using metal skeuomorphs of flint objects. There are several arrowheads with noticeably ‘lithic' tendencies on the PAS database, and daggers could be brought into the argument too. Records to start you off might include SF6680, ESS-A41D75, NMS-F982A3 and WMID-CE6A76.
  • Dress and adornment in the Bronze Age: Regional patterning in the use and deposition of Bronze Age dress accessories could be looked at using both PAS and excavated data. Dress accessories are relatively rare, but using both sources should provide enough information.
  • Analysis of Norfolk's drawings of Bronze Age artefacts: A remarkable resource of drawings exists in Norfolk. Every Bronze Age metal artefact found in the county has been drawn, from a total of 2,225 sites; but as yet no research project has been formulated to use it. For comparison, the Bronze Age metal items on the PAS database (as of March 2011) number roughly 3,200.
  • Roman brooch typological study: There is still no generally accepted typology of Roman brooches. Computer analysis of the 13,500 brooches on the PAS database (as of March 2011) should be able to suggest some broad principles.
  • Development of Reece period style chronology for brooches: The establishment of ‘normal' British brooch loss patterns, along the lines of Reece for coins, could follow on from the construction of a typology, and new and old assemblages could be compared to produce ‘brooch signatures' for different types of site.
  • Study of military equipment in the 2nd-3rd century: Roman military equipment is well understood from the first century AD, but 2nd- and 3rd-century material could be used to improve our knowledge of military activity at that time.
  • Analysis of differences between early Anglo-Saxon brooches excavated in-situ compared with those from disturbed contexts: Keith Parfitt (Canterbury Archaeological Trust) and Andrew Richardson (formerly the Kent FLO ) have discovered that brooch types in Kent differ between excavated and metal-detected assemblages . There are various possible reasons behind this (see paper in 'A Decade of Discovery') but one might be that the excavated evidence comes from graves – the costume of the dead – and that PAS data includes a substantial element of casual loss from the costume of the living. Andrew Richardson and Laura McLean (Essex FLO) are comparing brooch type proportions from cemeteries and from PAS records in selected southern counties of England, but there is scope at undergraduate or master's level to look at eastern and midland counties too. To establish differences between funerary and living costume would revolutionise early Anglo-Saxon studies, which are traditionally heavily costume-based.
  • Medieval seal matrices: Seal matrices are hugely under-researched but have the capacity to change our minds about medieval literacy. The PAS database currently (March 2011) has over 2,800 examples, and adds about 300 per year. By comparison, the largest list of seal matrices known before the Portable Antiquities Scheme began – Tonnochy's catalogue of the British Museum collection which was published in 1952 – contains just 408 medieval examples. The PAS seal matrices are not only more numerous, but also different to the kind of seal matrices that have survived in museum collections or on manuscripts; the vast majority are personal non-heraldic seal matrices. Women’s use of seals is an obvious topic, but there are plenty of other ideas, particularly for an interdisciplinary historical archaeology or medieval studies MA. Pointed-oval seals are more equally divided between men and women than the more common circular seals; is there something interesting about the men (e.g. are they clerics)? What links are there between central motif and the identity of the owner? Do seals show any form of regionalism – for example, do the East Anglian seals show differences which could be interpreted as the result of the region having a larger number of free landholders? Can we use seal matrices to trace the development of various types of byname and surname?
  • Papal bullae: Papal bullae are the seals from papal documents; there are currently (March 2011) nearly 150 on the PAS database. Some will have been attached to land grants, but many will be from indulgences. In theory these should become more and more common just before being swept away by the Reformation, but instead they seem to get less common throughout the fifteenth century. The doctrinal history of indulgences is well understood, but their actual use within popular religion has been hard to study until now. The main source of information on popular religion has hitherto been wills, but very few (less than a hundred) survive from before 1400, making bullae a useful additional source. This might make a good theology, history, archaeology or medieval studies dissertation.
  • Pilot studies of PhD topics: Several of the PhD dissertation ideas could be piloted using data from a single county or region.
  • Identifying early-medieval coastal market sites: A Geographical Information System would allow PAS material to be sorted so that coastal finds can be separated out. Are there, for example, Anglo-Saxon trading places – ‘productive sites’ – to be found around the coast, just as there are inland? Is there a difference in artefacts between coastal and inland sites? Is trading happening simply at landfall, or are the goods being transported to places with more amenities, such as royal palaces or major monasteries?
  • Middle Anglo-Saxon ansate brooches:

    The early-medieval ansate brooches from France and from England appear to differ in style and in date. There are over 170 ansate brooches on the PAS database (March 2011) which give a good sample of types; the excavated contexts would allow a date-range to be assigned. Can we work out which brooches have been made in England, and which imported from France? Kevin Leahy (Finds Adviser) and Faye Minter (Suffolk County Council Archaeology Service, former FLO for Suffolk) both have a particular interest in ansate brooches.

  • Carolingian metalwork in England and Wales: The number of items decorated in Carolingian style is now beginning to suggest that there was systematic import of this material direct from eighth- or ninth-century France, although the inclusion of some Carolingian artefacts within Viking-age hoards reminds us that these objects could have a long and busy life before loss or deposition. Analysis of the variety of Carolingian artefact types being reported from England and Wales, as well as their findspots, may help eventually to distinguish what was imported at the time it was made, and what had to wait for the Vikings to bring it here.
  • The potential of PAS lithics data:

    The PAS has been recording lithics data for many years, but this resource has not yet been used for research to the same extent as metalwork and coins. Is this to do with the nature of the evidence, or is it due to the way in which the PAS records flint and stone objects? A well-designed masters project could look at a sample of PAS lithics records, and could develop into a PhD which could inform and improve the way in which the Scheme records lithics.

  • Spiral finger-rings - a case study in an unchanging artefact:

    Spiral finger-rings are found in the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods, apparently with very little change in their form over this period. Most case studies of archaeological objects focus on why designs and uses change; this object type appears to have remained unchanged over three thousand years. Are we correct in thinking this, and why should it be so?

  • The Long Equal-Arm Brooch in England:

    Stefan Thӧrle’s 2001 study of early-medieval ansate brooches included his Type III, with triangular terminals. These are found on the Continent mainly in southern Switzerland, northern Italy and the Istrian peninsula, in contexts dating from about 560-640 AD.

    In England, we have a group of similar equal-arm brooches with long triangular terminals, but they seem to be unrelated to Thӧrle’s Type III. They appear to date broadly to the 6th century AD and are found in south-east England, south of the Severn-Wash line and east of the Bristol and Salisbury Avons.

    This group of 'long equal arm' brooches very rarely appear in graves, and so have not been isolated and named as a group before. But they are being recorded in increasing numbers on the PAS database, where there are now over 20.

    The questions for this research are, firstly are they related to the Continental Thӧrle Type III, or are they a purely English type? If so, where do they fit in to the rest of the early Anglo-Saxon brooch repertoire; what motivations went into choosing them as a brooch? It would be worth reviewing the statistics of brooch use to work out whether they really are under-represented in graves, or whether the sheer volume of finds being recorded by the PAS means that eventually even types as rare as these would be noticed. It would also be essential to review the method of fixing and fastening the pin, as this varies from one area of Europe to another and changes over time.

    To extend the project, it would be possible to compare them to brooches with similar feet but semi-circular heads, a little like Continental radiate-headed brooches but generally with fewer knobs. Again, these are rarely found in graves, and again their relationship to Continental brooches is little understood.


  • Phenomenological study of Bronze Age landscape.:

    The landscape contexts of Bronze Age hoards would help to shed light on hoarding behaviour, in the same way that Natasha Hutcheson (University of East Anglia) has established for Iron Age hoards in Norfolk. Richard Bradley (University of Reading) is planning a study looking at south-eastern England.

  • Art styles in Anglo-Scandinavian contexts: Comparison of late Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian art styles within and outside the Danelaw. Is the administrative boundary reflected in these distributions? A larger international study could profitably compare Danish finds to establish just how Scandinavian the Danelaw was – or how English. Relating this to lingustics, for example the study of place-names, would add depth.
  • The ‘after-life’ of early Anglo-Saxon cemetery sites: What happened to the sites of early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries when graves stopped being dug there? Numerous plough-damaged cemeteries can be identified by the number of early Anglo-Saxon metal finds in a small area; are there patterns to be found in the middle and later Anglo-Saxon finds, compared to other places? Roman settlement sites could perhaps be used as a control. Norfolk’s cemeteries have received most work (Chester-Kadwell 2009) so this might be a good place to start.
  • The late Roman/early Anglo-Saxon transition in the fifth century: How do PAS records of late Roman and very early Anglo-Saxon artefact types (e.g. coins, brooches, buckles and strap-ends) relate geographically and chronologically to sites known from excavation to have been used in the late Roman and early Anglo-Saxon periods? In addition, can PAS data help to explain what is happening in the fifth century in the west of Britain? Due to the differences between the east and the west of the country, this topic is probably best explored on a regional rather than a national scale.

Other formats: this page is available as xml json rss atom representations.