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Ask the Expert Q&A 24 February 2017: Treasure and Portable Antiquities – with Rebecca Griffiths

Rebecca Griffiths, Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) for North and East Yorkshire, will be answering your questions on  Friday 24 February between 2pm to 3pm GMT.

Rebecca Griffiths is the Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) for North and East Yorkshire.

Every year thousands of archaeological objects are found by members of the public. When properly recorded, these objects can contribute significantly to our understanding of the country’s history. These discoveries are usually unearthed in rural areas, where traditional archaeological investigation occurs less frequently, and as such, they can tell us about ordinary people, as well as the big events that shaped the region.

The British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) was established to encourage the voluntary recording of these archaeological objects, in order to advance our knowledge of the past. The PAS records objects over 300 years old, made of a variety of materials including metal, stone and ceramic. All finds recorded with the PAS are publicly accessible through the PAS’s online database (https://finds.org.uk/database) which contains over one million objects.

Rebecca also works closely with local county coroners to administer the Treasure Act 1996. Under the Act, the term ‘Treasure’ encompasses objects that contain at least 10 per cent precious metal and that are at least 300 years old, as well as hoards and some prehistoric objects. The reporting of items of potential Treasure is mandatory and gives museums the opportunity to acquire artefacts for the benefit of the nation.

Many of the finds recorded with the PAS are discovered by metal-detector users. The PAS advocates best practice and encourages finders to adhere to the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting. The growth of metal detecting and formal reporting offered by the PAS has made much more material available for study, which helps with the interpretation of objects that were previously unique or where only a handful were known.

More information on the Pas can be found here: https://finds.org.uk/.

Rebecca Griffiths, Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) for North and East Yorkshire will be answering your questions on Friday 24 February between 2pm to 3pm GMT.

You can post questions before the Q&A session, on 24 February , or you can converse in real time with our expert. You can use the comment box below to post a question, or you can use twitter with the hashtag  #mdyask.

Comments have to be moderated, to protect the blog from spam, so if your comment doesn’t appear straight away, don’t worry, we’ll get to it as quickly as we can.

If you have a problem submitting questions, either in the comment box, or via twitter, please email your questions to [email protected]

If you have ideas for subjects you’d like to see us cover in future, or would like to take questions yourself, please get in contact with us and let us know.

Your Comments

  1. Gillian Waters |

    Hi Rebecca
    What’s the most interesting find that you have come across? Was it the Wold Newton Hoard?

  2. Rebecca Griffiths |

    Now that’s a tricky one. Wold Newton is certainly exceptionally interesting as it is the largest of its size to be discovered in the north of England. It can also be quite precisely dated with the latest coins suggesting a depositional date of AD 307. It also has strong ties to York itself featuring coins minted in York from the time of Constantius, who died in the city, and then the first to feature Constantine I. You can see more about the hoard here: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/637965.

    New variations of established object types have also become apparent through PAS data which are also of extreme interest. For example, the Roman Headstud brooch is a common, well known and long-lived type but examples with two (rather than the usual one) apex knops have recently been found in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. These were thought to be a northern phenomenon until the recent recording of one from the Isle of Wight changed our thinking. One of the first recorded examples can be seen here: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/538466.

    Another one of my favourites is a medieval seal matrix which was deposited as Treasure in 2015. What is interesting about this is that the matrix in inlaid with a re-used Roman intaglio. It was not uncommon for such objects to be reused in the medieval period but it is unclear exactly how they came to be so used. It is possible that they were found locally by peasants working the land and passed to their lords, though it is equally possible that that they were imported for specific uses. The way in which such intaglios were viewed and interpreted by the medieval people is also an interesting topic regarding the impact of one civilisation on another. You can see the object here: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/729621

    I really could go on as there are so many finds which are interesting for different reasons but those three examples always stand out in my mind.

  3. Gillian Waters |

    How do metal detectorists get in contact with the Portable Antiquities Scheme and what’s the process?

  4. Rebecca Griffiths |

    The contact details for all PAS staff, including local Finds Liaison Officers (FLO’s), such as me, are listed on our website: https://finds.org.uk/contacts or you can use this handy FLO finder app: http://rjw57.github.io/findmyflo/.

    We record items over 300 years old (to align with the Treasure Act 1996) of any material including metal, stone and ceramic. We need to borrow objects for a short period of time in order to create full and accurate records which can be published on our database (http://finds.org.uk/database). Each item will be identified and logged and a print out of the information gathered will be returned along with the object. With all finds we require a minimum 6-figure National Grid Reference (NGR) in order to create as full a picture as possible. Findspots will not be publically identified on the database more precisely than an National Grid Reference of four figures (which identifies 1km square). As we want to protect archaeological sites from damage, such as nighthawking, the most sensitive findspots will not be identified as accurately as this, usually given only a parish name as reference.

    It is important to always obtain permission from the landowner before searching on their land; this includes land which is publicly accessible, such as beaches, footpaths, or council-owned land. Detecting on scheduled monuments is strictly forbidden unless permission has been obtained from Historic England (in England) or Cadw (in Wales).

    Finds can be recovered from the ploughed surface of a field without disturbing any archaeological layers that there might be below. However, recovering objects from below the plough-soil will cause damage to archaeology and should be avoided. On land that is not ploughed archaeological layers can be much closer to the surface and so much more vulnerable to damage.

    Make a note of the findspot, either using a map or hand held GPS device. All finds are evidence of human occupation, and can help us understand more about a particular area or object type. As more and more finds are recorded we will begin to be able to trace patterns in the way they are distributed and these will provide vital clues to the activities of our ancestors.

    If an object constitutes Treasure then it must be reported to your local FLO or the county coroner (http://finds.org.uk/treasure). More information on The Scheme, how we work and what we record can be found on our website at http://www.finds.org.uk.

  5. Gillian Waters |

    What would you say is the most significant find that has come to light in the Portable Antiquities scheme?

  6. Rebecca Griffiths |

    What would you say is the most significant find that has come to light in the Portable Antiquities scheme?

    Another tricky one as there are so many which are significant for different reasons.

    One which will leap out at most people I suspect would be the Staffordshire Hoard. This is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found, anywhere. It dates to the 7th – 8th centuries and consists of over 3,500 items which are thought to be martial in nature. Each one is absolutely stunning.

    It was found on 5th July 2009, reported to and excavated by the Portable Antiquities Scheme in that region thanks to funding and support from English Heritage and Staffordshire County Council.

    Since the find, a research and conservation programme comprised of leading and notable experts in the field has been launched and will continue for many years.

    The find is so important it even has its own website: http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk/.

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