Metal detector

Treasure Trove: it can’t be shiny all the time

Occasionally a day in the office reading policy documents can be a bit dull. Let’s be honest, it’s too nice a day to be in the office. My archaeological fingers are itching to be outside. But there is work to be done, and actually, there are some pretty great things to be looking at here in the Treasure Trove Unit.

Occasionally a day in the office reading policy documents can be a bit dull

Occasionally a day in the office reading policy documents can be a bit dull

Apart from the usual emails, dealing with reported finds and answering enquires about Treasure Trove, there are two main jobs for today; going over our Code of Practice review and researching some recently reported finds which have been made by members of the public. The first one, let’s be honest, is dull. As archaeologists sometimes it is important to admit that our profession can have boring bits from time to time, whether it’s data entry, backfilling a trench or reading policy documents. It’s not sexy archaeology for sure, but the launch of the reviewed Code of Practice is an important one and will in some cases make some positive alterations to some of our procedures when dealing with the public, archaeologists and museums. What I have to do today is read through it and highlight areas were a change may affect our normal working practice. Yawn!

Researching a 14th century medieval macehead found in the Scottish Borders

Researching a 14th century medieval macehead found in the Scottish Borders

The second part is much more up my street and that’s researching objects. This research forms part of understanding the significance of the object or assemblage and demonstrates why we think it should be claimed as Treasure Trove. You can read more about this process on our website.

Today I am doing some research on a very exciting object, a medieval macehead, which was reported to us last week by a metal detectorist from the Scottish Borders. You can see an image of it on our Twitter feed @TTUScotland #recentTTU

Although quite worn and with a couple of chips it is actually in good condition. Medieval weaponry is fascinating, but chance finds of this kind are relatively rare, so an opportunity to research it further is great. We have already recorded and photographed it, so the next part is to compare it with other examples in published reports or in the NMS collection. With all this to keep me occupied, I don’t even mind being indoors.

A week in the life of (Shropshire and Herefordshire) FLO

This is me

This is me

As a Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) for the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) life is never straightforward and it is guaranteed that the minute you plan out what is happening during the week – everything changes. With this in mind – rather than just telling you  what I did today – I thought I would recap the whole week. I have left the everyday bits out and instead you have the edited highlights:


Recording Archaeological finds from the Hereford Metal Detecting Club – finds recording is what I (and all FLOs) spend most of our days doing. Whether it is recording broken buckles or corroded coins or exceptional artefacts they all add to the rich tapestry that is lurking beneath the English and Welsh landscape.


Morning meeting with the head of the museum service in Shropshire, County Archaeologist and Historic Environment Staff.  This is a chance for everyone working within the Council environment to catch up on what has happened and what is planned – sounds dull but was fascinating – especially as I had the opportunity to contribute important new sites discovered recently through recorded finds to the discussions. The sites of which will now be flown over by the HER team as part of their summer season of aerial photography.

South Shropshire Ring copyright PAS

South Shropshire Ring
copyright PAS

Lunchtime: Coroner holds an inquest into a gold post Roman ring discovered in South Shropshire. The ring is of National Importance (see PAS record). It is unlikely to have been worn on a finger – instead it is more likely to have either decorated a sword pommel or be a form of toggle / woggle / dress decoration. The date of the find is the really important and interesting as we have very little information about post Roman Shropshire (apart from what is known from Wroxeter). This find is likely to be of continental – possibly Byzantine – origin and as such is another link between Western Britain and what remains of the Eastern Roman Empire

Teatime: Talk to the local BBC radio Shropshire on their drive time show about the find, metal detecting and treasure


More treasure things – giving information to local press – about the ring from South Shropshire

BBC and Shropshire Star

Afternoon: Advertise PAS Finds Recording Assistant for the West Midlands – Headley Trust Intern. The West Midlands team of FLOs was awarded a bursary post  at the beginning of the financial year to help train and develop finds professionals / post graduate students in identifying and recording archaeological finds. This internship is offered part time over 6 months and will be based with me in Ludlow Museum Resource Centre. Visit the PAS vacancies website for more information!


Back to recording the finds from the Hereford Club – something that should have been finished earlier in the week!

Afternoon – 3:30 Call from a couple of local metal detectorists to say that they had found a Roman coin hoard could I come out and have a look as they uncovered a small group of coins and stoppped.  This is exactly what we advise people to do when finding objects which are obviously still associated with an archaeological context.

So I went out to the site in XXXXXX (sorry if I told you where it was – I would have to kill you) to see what it was that they had uncovered!

Roman coin hoard

Roman coin hoard

The hoard looks to be lying beneath the ploughsoil and be undisturbed! From what could be seen – the hoard is most likely to date from the late 3rd Century AD and be positioned beneath a stone. This period (260-290 ish AD) has a huge number (over 660 at the last count) of hoards put in the ground – this phenomenon is currently being investigated by a specially funded archaeological project organised by the British Museum and University of Leicester (see here).

a few of the coins

a few of the coins

As there were more coins in the ground it was decided that it would be better to leave them and return to excavate the following week so all the archaeological information can be captured.

bottom of the hole

bottom of the hole

Evening Rush home and have quick wash and brush up: Then straight back out to Ludlow Museum for a evening fundraiser in aid of The Bitterley Hoard.

Bitterley Hoard

Bitterley Hoard

Last year for the Day of Archaeology I spent alot of time blogging about this really important civil war hoard from South Shropshire (see here) which had just made the news. Well, a year later the Shropshire Museums and the Friends of Ludlow Museum are trying hard to raise the monies to acquire and conserve this hoard (see here).

Crowds in Ludlow Museum

Crowds in Ludlow Museum

The event was well attended (with over 120 people) – and I even said a few words about what the hoard was, why it was important. Lottie, chair of the friends, then said what the Museum hoped to do with it when / if it were acquired.

Peter talking - standing next to the finder Howard Murphy

Peter talking – standing next to the finder Howard Murphy

The hoard is the largest civil war group of coins found in Shropshire in modern times and due to the level of preservation the leather purse in which it was deposited is remarkably well preserved. If you want to help save the hoard – and conserve it for display in Ludlow Museum then you can make a contribution through the Friends ‘Just Giving’ webpage.


Back to the office and recording those finds – as well as catching up on a weeks worth of phone and email messages. Oh and planning the hoard excavation for next week … but then I’m sure if I make too many plans something else is bound to crop up

Evening: Writing this blog – which I hope you have enjoyed!




Peter Reavill

Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme



Ruth Taylor: Senior Archaeologist and Accidental Impeder of Be-suited City Folk

8am. I found myself on a building site, in a dank basement peering down a 2m deep hole, wielding both a torch and a hand tape as I valiantly attempted to record a late medieval barrel-lined well and a medieval quarry pit that were visible in section. This was challenging to say the least as  I wasn’t about to enter a deep, unshored foundation trench – safety first! In addition to my usual hard hat, safety boots and gloves, I was also wearing ear defenders and a dust mask, as they were breaking out concrete nearby; all you could see of my face were my eyes. A few snaps for the archaeological record later and I could be found slowly sinking into the spoil heap waving a metal detector around, listening for the beep that would indicate a potentially exciting small find. Unfortunately, all I seemed to detect today were the iron girders supporting the existing building. I did my best to wipe off the mud caking my steel-toe capped boots, but still felt guilty once I had climbed out of the basement and seen that the site cleaner had just finished vacuuming the construction site office.


Hazards of archaeology #725: muddy boots; Hazards of archaeology #726 leaving muddy bootprints

I left site at 9.30am and caught a bus to the office. I’ve never managed to travel light as an archaeologist, but today I felt like a packhorse as I carted: my rucksack, the site records, camera, half-metre scale and metal detector to the bus stop. If you were walking through the City of London this morning and were almost taken out by an over-laden, slightly disheveled individual with hard-hat hair wearing a grubby pair of jeans – I can only apologise.

Present time. After a cup of tea and a catch-up (ok, ok – gossip) with my colleagues, I’ve settled down to write this post before starting work on a geotechnical watching brief report for a site I finished a few weeks ago. As thrilling as that sounds, I may need some chocolate biscuits for motivation. Does anyone want anything from the Co-op?

The Bitterley Hoard – An Introduction

PAS Logo

Part of working for the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) means that I have handled more important artefacts than the average field or museum archaeologist. I am going to try (technology permitting) to give a flavour of this today by using a relatively recent find to highlight the work we do and how one find can shed light on a much bigger picture .

A hoard of silver coins

The Bitterley hoard

The hoard of coins was originally found in February 2011 (a long time before this day of archaeology) by a metal detector user. The hoard dates from the civil war and they have been slowly working their way through the treasure system. The find reached a crucial stage yesterday – when Mr John Ellery, HM Coroner for Shropshire, found that they constituted a case of treasure. This offical opinion is based upon hours (and weeks) of careful research by the staff of the British Museum, me and other colleagues at the PAS.

Over the next few posts today I hope to show you the different facets of the PAS and Treasure. I’m hoping to do this throughout the day in small bite size chunks. I hope you enjoy the journey and this day of archaeology for 2012.


Peter Reavill

Finds Liaison Officer for Shropshire and Herefordshire

Portable Antiquities Scheme.


ps: this is me – getting my hands dirty

Peter Reavill at work

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..

On expedition to Russell Square

Archaeology is digging. Simple. It’s one of those professions that makes for good dinner party conversation, easy banter in the pub and suitable fare for family reunions, because everyone knows what archaeologists do – they dig stuff up. Or do they? Archaeology and the people who get paid to do it may have a clearer (and more positive) brand image than bankers, consultants and CFOs, but the field is anything but one-dimensional. Sure, some of us dig or get our hands dirty in other ways, but archaeologists are involved in all manner of work in their pursuit of a greater understanding of human activity. I hope that in the course of viewing these blog posts, readers will get an appreciation of the vast scope of ‘our’ world.

My own day of archaeology began with a visit to our offices in Russell Square by a cameraman who was capturing footage of a colleague for the next instalment of the History Channel series ‘Mud Men’. Our building is a converted Georgian terraced house facing on to Russell Square and is connected to the British Museum via our back garden. I set to work typing up the minutes of a recent meeting and watch my colleague reposition a few props to make the space seem more ‘archaeological’. There isn’t so much as a trowel in our office, but this space is the epicentre of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), the network of archaeologists (Finds Liaison Officers, or FLOs) across England and Wales who are working with the public to record their finds and help transform our understanding of the past.

Some days it can seem like we are sitting at the other end of the Bat Phone, where the next call could be one that informs us of a compelling discovery. This is one of those days – a hardworking FLO has just rung to let us know there has been an Iron Age hoard found in a northern county. We start a new file and enter the information into our treasure database, giving the case a very bureaucratic ‘T’ number.


Installing a selection from the Frome Hoard in the Treasure case

I dash off to a meeting in a nearby building about the future display of ‘Room 2’, the ‘Changing Museum’ gallery here at the British Museum. As part of our role in administering the Treasure Act 1996, the British Museum takes in hundreds of finds of Treasure each year for study. Many of these are eventually acquired by regional museums, with others being returned to the people who found them. Until last year, these finds remained locked away in secure storage for the duration of their stay, but recently we’ve been offered the chance to display some of this material in the public galleries. We currently have a case in Room 41, but as this gallery is closing for redevelopment, our next ‘home’ will be Room 2. Even though we only have one case and one information panel, at a large museum like this there are a great number of people involved in making the project a success. Today I’ve found out that the folks in exhibitions have sourced a new case for our use, one with interior lights and more space than a previous example, so I’m excited at the opportunities for display.

Back at my desk, my work takes me in the direction of the PAS Database, where I’m checking to make sure some specific finds have been recorded and recorded properly. The magnificent rebuild of the database by Dan Pett has made for a much more ‘user-friendly’ platform. In the past, as finds of Treasure were recorded as part of a legal process, they weren’t always given an entry on the PAS database, so one of the tasks that we engage volunteers for is to go through historic Treasure reports and create a database record for the items in them. They’ve been doing a great job, but there is plenty more work to be done.

Its time to organise the logistics for a Finds Day that the PAS is running at Arundel Castle in Sussex on Saturday. There will be a team of us heading to the town from across Southeast England, and we are all bringing various supplies – among other things the British Museum has a good supply of latex gloves so I’ll be taking those. We’ve also sourced an old banner to pack up. The Finds Day is the culmination of a busy two weeks of outreach organised under the banner of the Festival of British Archaeology by the CBA. Many of the PAS staff have been participating in or running events throughout the country since mid-July.

Most days I ask a colleague to return my museum keys for me, so that I can leave directly from our front door on to Russell Square. But today I have change of mind and walk along the ‘East Road’ behind our offices and the hotels on Montague Street, out into the forecourt of the British Museum. Tucked away behind a computer screen it is amazing how quickly the image of those massive columns disappears from the mind, but such is their presence that all it takes is one glance to instil one with a renewed sense of purpose. I may not be traipsing amongst Mayan ruins in the Yucatan but there is plenty of archaeology to be found here in Bloomsbury.

A Bicycle and the British Museum

Arriving at the British Museum

Most days start with a bike ride down the hill to the British Museum, on the collective of metal and rubber that is,probably, at a guess, three times heavier than your average ‘I can cycle wearing lycra with a gut’ bike. It was bought a year ago on the basis that it is totally indestructible, even if I am not (a big thanks to the British Museum for that employee loan!), and it really is quite the pal now. After a perfected struggle from the top floor I feel pretty happy about the idea of not shelling out over a ton for a monthly TFL travel card, and a bit smug on my way in!

All hands on deck today. The Treasure Valuation Committee ( is meeting, a television producer + his camera need looking after, the post-medieval curator requires a little extra help processing a multitude of reports about objects of Treasure ( that have been written by a fantastic crew of Finds Liaison Officers dotted across the country, and objects need to be transported across the museum for the committee members to view. And I remind myself that I probably account for much less than 1000th of what goes on here.
Toilet Implement Set

Toilet Implement Set found by Woolwich John

After a quick dash over to the Department of Prehistory and Europe, we looked through all the items that the FLOs had sent in. Most of the items that are reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme are found by metal detectorists, and todays collection of items was quite indicative of the type and range of post-medieval artefacts of potential Treasure that are handed in; from thimbles and cufflinks to a toilet implement set found by Woolwich John on the Thames Foreshore.

Filming at the British Museum

The rest of the day was mostly occupied being at the meeting preparing the items for viewing by the committee members. By about 4 o’clock the Treasure Team is wiped out (and hot- we couldn’t find the air con), but we ‘struggle’ onto 5, dreaming of a pint, bed or both, possibly at the same time.