Cheshire HEROs

Bronze Age burial mounds Illustration by Dai Owen

Bronze Age burial mounds illustration by Dai Owen. ©Cheshire Historic Environment Record.

As jobs go, being an Historic Environment Record Officer (or HERO as we like to be known) is a pretty interesting one, not least because I get to look at maps, aerial photographs and read about archaeology every day.

A large part of the job is maintaining the Cheshire Historic Environment Record (HER), adding new records and updating existing ones. We also carry out searches for archaeological consultants, academic researchers and the public. This does involve a lot of time spent in front of a computer, but occasionally I get to go and look at actual archaeological sites (outside!).

This week, thanks to information from a member of the public, I am making a visit to a possible round barrow, deep in rural Cheshire.  Cheshire has 135 round barrows, but in general they are not much to look at on the ground, being mostly ploughed out. Looks however, are deceptive. In 2012 a training excavation for the HLF funded Habitats and Hillforts project uncovered four Bronze Age cremation urns from a de-scheduled round barrow. This barrow (one of a group of seven) was believed to have been completely ploughed out.

It’s not only looking at archaeology in the field that can yield exciting results though. We receive regular updates from the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. When we incorporate the new information about individual finds into the HER we can discover some surprises. Most recently  we have added a  group of around fifty Roman coins found in close proximity and including four radiate coins, over thity nummi, five other copper alloy coins and an Islamic coin. Amongst the group are three unusual coins from the Eastern Mediterranean; a nummus from Constantinople c.AD 348-51; a decanummium of Justinian I from Constantinople AD 542-9 and an Islamic coin which probably dates from the eighth to tenth centuries AD. The coins all display corrosion consistent with exposure to the British soil conditions, suggesting that they are not souvenirs introduced to the site at a much later date. This is a notable concentration of coins from the eastern Empire and may represent a hoard which has been dispersed by ploughing.

In addition to the PAS data, a regular flow of new information into the HER comes from Grey Literature, local society journals, members of the public and research projects.

Today I received two new research and recording reports from the Cheshire Gardens Trust. We have been assisting their volunteers in their work in recording survival of undesignated historic gardens and landscapes. Their reports are full of really useful information about the development of large houses,  gardens and designed landscapes and their survival today.

They do a lot of documentary research and we recently held a training day in the HER for their members so we could show them what resources they could access by visiting the HER, in particular the digital aerial photographs and maps.

Visitors to the HER can view our full set of digitised aerial surveys of the county, taken every 10 years since the 1970’s as well as the 1940’s RAF Aerial Survey. They also have access to the printed source material behind our digital HER records and as much tea as they can drink (and occasionally cake.)

For more information about the Cheshire Historic Environment Record and to visit the online version of the HER visit

To All Archaeologists, Blog Readers and Interested Folk

We are part of Leeds Museums numismatic collections, we live in store at the Discovery Centre in Leeds. We are all roman coins and today we’ve been brought out into the light so that Lucy, who works on the coin collections can select some of us to go on outreach.

The store where we live temperature controlled and highly secure. We might be small, but we’re valuable! Museums don’t judge objects in terms of price, but in terms of our Cultural Value. We are orphaned coins – the data from where we were excavated was lost in the Victorian period – and we entered the collection of a man called George Baron, who loved us objects. You can understand so much about the past from our designs and our inscriptions. We may not be able to securely date a site, but we can open windows into the Roman world.

Best Wishes and Happy Day of Archaeology,

Coins of Leeds Museums & Galleries

@CuratorLucy works with numismatic collections at Leeds, but is also Projects Curator: First World War there. Archaeological centenary projects include exploring Leeds’ built environment and linking archaeological investigations of the Leeds Pals’ training camp to collections in the city.


A day in the life of a National Finds Adviser for the PAS

I work for the Portable Antiquities Scheme as the Deputy Finds Adviser for Iron Age and Roman coins and part time as a Roman Finds Adviser. It’s my job to help our national network of Finds Liaison Officers to identify and record all the tricky coins and artefacts brought in by metal detectorists to record and to emphasise their research potential. Every day working for the Scheme is different. The past couple of weeks have seen me give lectures at metal Detecting Clubs in Liverpool and the Wirral, attend a conference on Roman coins from Britain and record more than 1000 coins from new sites discovered throughout the country. This entry gives a snapshot of what I’ve been doing today.

9.15am: I arrive at work at the Department of Coins and Medals at the British Museum and spend the next half hour answering email queries from finders and Finds Liaison Officers. Answering queries is a major part of my role. Today, I’ve identified and referenced a couple of coins from the Isle of Wight, where the FLO, Frank Basford, works very hard with detectorists to record as many objects as possible. As a result, he has recorded more than 1500 Roman coins for the island which has totally changed our understanding of the Roman period there.
9.45am: I check in to the Finds Liaison Officers’ Finds Forum and leave a couple of opinions on objects posted there. One of the FLOs wants to know where he can find examples of iron Roman brooches, whilst another queries whether an unusual wire feature on the foot of a Roman brooch is a repair or part of its decoration. I make a note to flick through some Roman catalogues later to try and find parallels. I post a map of the distribution of Roman knee brooches recorded by the PAS which I’ve been working on and it provokes some interesting discussion from FLOs…
10.20am: I start putting together a provisional object and image list for a display on ‘Roman coins as religious offerings’ which will form part of a new Money Gallery at the British museum. I want to use a combination of objects from the museum’s collections and some reported through the PAS. I choose a selection of coins found in the River Thames at London Bridge, some cut and mutilated coins from a range of sites throughout the country and decide it would be a good idea to also have some artefacts too. I therefore email the curators in the Department of Prehistory and Europe to see whether they have any votive objects in their reserve collections which might be suitable. I’m hoping for a miniature object and a lead curse tablet!
1pm: Lunch and a bit of a rest!
2pm: I check up on my intern, Victoria, an MA student in Museum Studies from George Washington University. She’s spent the summer recording coins on the PAS database and scanning accompanying images and has done an amazing job, entering more than 1000 over the past month. We get a lot of help from students and volunteers and I hope they get as much out of it as we do!
2.30pm: Back to the museum display. I’ve just found out I have to write the general display text to accompany my finds by Monday. It’s only 80 words explaining the theme of my display but I think it’s going to be a bit of a challenge.
3pm: Start recording part of a large assemblage of coins from a site in Wiltshire which looks like it might be a Roman temple site. Amongst the coins are about 20 pierced with iron nails – possible evidence of a ritual practice I aim to investigate in more detail later. I add these coins to my spreadsheet of ‘mutilated coins’ recorded by the PAS and will come back to them next week when I start writing an article on ‘Cut and mutilated Roman coins recorded by the PAS’.
4pm: I start collecting together all the reference works and recording sheets that Victoria and I will need tomorrow. We’re going to a Finds Day in Sussex as part of a team of FLOs and PAS Finds Advisers to record coins and objects. Getting out and about to let people know about the Scheme is really important. We’re hoping to see some interesting finds and meet some new finders..

Me, a scalpel and a microscope

A conservator  can reveal a surprising amount of detail just by  controlled mechanical cleaning under a microscope.  The benefit of using a mechanical method is that there is no need to introduce chemicals, and the extent to which material is removed can be immediately observed and controlled.   Here are the results so far of this morning’s investigative mechanical cleaning of a Roman coin from Hamble – one of 30 in the queue!

Copyright Claire Woodhead

Mechanical cleaning - half completed