Portable Antiquities

A lot of you will be aware that Jools and I have spent time over in the UK and Ireland pretending we are Julian Richards (from “Meet The Ancestors”) and being really, really, really excited looking at really, really, really old stuff. We aren’t talking “strolling around the Rocks” up in Sydney old here, we are talking “The Pyramids are a bunch of Johnny Come Lately upstarts” old. These travels were chronicled in the Celtic Adventure and The Fellowship of the Fur websites. From Tintagel and Stonehenge to Skara Brae and Newgrange and lots of stuff in between.

PAS DatabaseAnyway a couple of days ago while stumbling around on the web I found the Portable Antiquities website. Now what does that conjure up when you first hear it?
Mobile Stonehenges for the backyard. “easy to carry when you move house. Get your portable Stonehenge now”.

No? OK, I guess that it’s just me then.

Moving along … What it actully is (and I quote from the hype here)…
The Portable Antiquities Scheme is a voluntary scheme in the UK to record archaeological objects found by members of the public. 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.

The figures for the quantity of stuff found are quite staggering; more than 67,000 archaeological items and 427 pieces of treasure have been discovered by members of the public over the past year, according to two new reports launched by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The PAS, which is run by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), is the UK’s largest community archaeology project and its annual report (2004/5) contains information about finds reported by amateur archaeologists, metal detectorists, gardeners, farmers, builders and walkers.

The 2003 DCMS Treasure Annual Report includes details of objects reported under the UK Treasure Act 1996. Finders have a legal obligation to put their hand up when they find stuff over 300 years old.

Some of the stuff discovered goes back to the Prehistoric period and range from a first century nail cleaner to one of the most remarkable examples of ornate Roman Oil lamp found in Britain; a mystery seventh century head, beautiful jewellery, and a stunning coin which proves the existence of a little known Roman Emperor Domitian II.

Here are some highlights of the stuff that’s been found and reported recently.

  • Eighteenth century apple or cheese scoops from London (c.1700) – three apple or cheese scoops made from the metapodial bones of sheep which were found on the Thames foreshore, City of London and are in excellent condition of preservation.
  • Roman copper-alloy figurine (50-100 AD) – Roman copper-alloy fitting from a table leg in the form of the deity Attys, found in Reigate, Surrey. The object appears to be unique in Roman Britain. The only known parallel comes from Pompeii.
  • Roman silver coin (c.271 AD) – a base silver Roman coin known as a radiate of the emperor Domitian II was discovered in Chalgrove, Oxfordshire – the first such coin found in Britain. The only other was found in France and was thought to be a fake until the discovery of the British coin proved the existence of the short-lived emperor.
  • Iron Age electrum torc (c.200-50 BC) – a fine example of a beautifully manufactured late Iron Age necklace. Found in South West Norfolk.
  • Iron Age scabbard mount (100 BC – 100AD) – a beautiful example of Late Iron Age copper-alloy scabbard mount.
  • Anglo-Saxon skillet (c.675 – 800 AD) – an important early Christian grave object, this find is made of sheet copper-alloy skillet, with a riveted mount in the form of a cross. Found in Shalfleet Parish, Isle of Wight.
  • Anglo-Saxon jewellery (c.625-675 AD) – two gold pendants with polychrome glass settings, a gold spacer bead and a number of copper-alloy girdle accessories, were unearthed from a female burial site in Thurnham, Kent.
  • A silver coin (c.1062 – 1065) – unique silver cut halfpenny of Edward the Confessor found in Gloucester. Coins of this date are very rare.

It would seem Jools and I aren’t the only people fascinated by the past. I just wish they had more pictures on the site.

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