metal detectorists

A Life in a Day

Last year I quit my job in the city, moved back home, and made the decision to move back into archaeology. It was a very difficult decision to make as I had to give up the life I was used to in London, but I feel it was the right one. I’m very passionate about community archaeology, and I believe it is important for people to be aware of the landscape and history around them as this helps to increase the understanding of their heritage and identity. I also believe that so many skills can be gained through participation, both practical and personal.

When I first left my job I was so nervous I’d be unable to find any volunteer roles, and I’d be sitting around not working at all. How wrong I was! I’ve been very lucky to be involved in a range of amazing projects and the experience I’ve gained has been invaluable.

As my main interest is community archaeology I tried to focus on getting experience in that, both in how community archaeology works behind the scenes, and general experience of working with the public. I’ve been involved in a range of projects over the last few months. Rather than focus on one day, I’m going to give an overview of each of them, along with a link to their websites so you can find out more.

The first place I got involved in at the beginning of the year was the Portable Antiquities Scheme. My nearest branch is in Winchester, with the Winchester Museums Service. I had experience working with finds on excavations, but I rarely got to see anything other than pottery and animal bones, so the experience has been so important. The scheme is a funded project to record archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. Most of the finds are bought in by metal detectorists, but not all. It has been really successful in encouraging good practice in finders and land owners, and many finds have been recorded on the database, including the location of where they were found. I am one of the many volunteers round the country who help to photograph and record these finds. I feel very fortunate to be able to handle these items, and learn more about them.


Photographing worked flint 


Editing the image on the computer, ready to put on the database

As well as recording items, I’ve also been on training courses during my time with the PAS. I’ve had a day course on Roman coins at the British Museum, and a really interesting session on Roman brooches, and the different types. The Portable Antiquities Website is:

I then got involved at Stonehenge, signing up to be a Neolithic House Interpreter. I took all the training, and then the opportunity came up to work on building the houses too. It was a fantastic experience, as it really gave me insight into how these buildings could have been built originally and the range of materials available. It was great to look at the archaeological evidence from Durrington Walls, and really think about how these buildings were first built, and how they were used. I also really enjoyed daubing, using a mixture of chalk, water and straw to cover the walls, it’s very therapeutic! The houses were built under the guidance of the Ancient Technology Centre, more information can be found here –


Putting the daub onto one of the Neolithic Houses

The volunteers have also received training on fire training (very important in a house made of wood and straw!), bread making, flint knapping, and clothing and organic materials. This is so beneficial and has really helped when speaking to visitors onsite.


As the houses only opened at the beginning of June, I’ve only done a few sessions as a house interpreter, but the knowledge gained on the building of the houses has really benefited. I feel I can really explain to the public about how the houses were created. I’m also very proud of the houses and the team that worked on them, they are beautiful structures. More information can be found on the Neolithic Houses blog – 


These are the two main projects I’ve been involved in, but I’ve also had the odd day here and there. I helped to survey the roof of Hampton Court Palace, which was a bit scary balancing on the wooden beams! I’ve also done some work with the East Oxford Project helping to sort finds from test pits, and attending a really interesting pottery weekend run by Paul Blinkhorn. I additionally spent a day in the Natural History Museum in Oxford moving small mammal skulls, and repacking them into more suitable containers!


Balancing on a beam in the dark Hampton Court attic!

So, although I’d absolutely love a proper paid secure job (it’s exhausting fitting in the babysitting and gardening!) I feel very privileged to be involved in all these projects, which is why I wanted to write about all of them. There is such a range of work going on around the country, and it’s very exciting.


A FLO’s Life

I have been the Finds Liaison Officer for Northamptonshire since October 2008, and trying to give an account of what it is like to be an FLO, and the challenges, joys and bizarre incidents I have encountered over the last (almost) 4years in a one day diary post is impossible.

I am hosted in Northants County Council by the Archive and Heritage Service. This team includes the HER (Historic Environment Record) and the Record Office, who are generally archivists, and so although I am part of a team which curates and maintains the Historic resources of the county, I am very much alone in what I do. I handle, research and record archaeological artefacts discovered by members of the public. Being the only FLO in what is a relatively small county in the Midlands (when compared to my colleagues in Kent, Essex and the North) has its challenges and rewards like any other job.

Despite meaning to engineer my diary so that I had something interesting to report on for today, my diary is actually relatively quiet compared to other days where I do Finds Surgeries in museums and Council Offices across the county. Finds Surgeries allow  members of the public to meet me and bring me artefacts they have discovered, and want me to identify and record for them. 90% of these surgeries are used by metal detectorists, who deliberately search fields with the intention of discovering archaeological artefacts. The majority of whom do their own research and have a good understanding of what they have found, bringing them to me for the purposes of recording them for archaeological knowledge and research, rather than for ID alone.  But of that remaining 10% I am often delighted by the range of artefacts discovered accidentally by people digging their garden, or walking across the countryside, and who are genuinely amazed by what they have found. A case in point is PAS database record NARC-894AF2, found by a young lady when digging a rockery in her back garden and whose father very sheepishly brought it in to me at a Finds Surgery in Daventry, hoping he wasn’t embarrassing himself by bringing me a rock! In fact what he had brought me was a genuine Acheulian hand axe, dating to the Lower paeleolithic era and adding to our scant knowledge of Palaeolithic Northants. Yes, that was in 2009, so maybe I am cheating by mentioning it here – but it gives you the perfect case in point – you never know what is coming through the door in this job!

In an age when few museums have archaeological curators on staff to advise people on their finds, the FLO in most counties tend to be the first port of call for people with questions about archaeological artefacts and treasure. These questions range from wondering about a date and meaning of Willow pattern pottery in their back garden, to showing me flints found in the garden, driveway or field wondering if they are worked and of importance (very rarely the case, but it isn’t impossible and I’d always rather people double checked than didn’t try at all!), to large collections of metal detected artefacts from people who have detected for a long period of time and want to record them with the PAS. In between those categories are the metal detectorists who visit me every month to record their previous months finds, and we have a regular turn over of artefacts.

This type of collection is one which I am working my way through now. It has a range of pottery, Roman coins, medieval pennies and some post-medieval finds which I will not record but will offer the finder an ID for them by writing on the bag (“Georian fob” and the like). Each object is in a bag with the findspot location written on it, which is ideal. This collection is a accurate representation of the general finds from most fields. People get very excited over Treasure cases, and the discovery of a treasure case is sometimes the only press metal detecting and PAS gets. The reality is much less headline grabbing, but much more archaeologically significant.

After I have battled my way through that small collection, I have these large boxes of pottery to wade through from a field walker in Geddington which will probably, for the sake of time and my sanity, end up as a bulk report for the HER rather than an individual record for each sherd on the PAS database.

Fieldwalkers pottery collection


After that, I have approximately 25 emails to reply to, mostly from people wanting to know where to meet me so I can see their objects, or wanting to know how I am getting on with their objects and when can they have them back (I try for a 2 month turn around, but the more finds that come in, the harder this self-imposed deadline gets).

Then will be preparation for Monday’s Finds Research Group (FRG) meeting. I was asked to be on the FRG committee as a representative of the Post-Medieval period by the late, great Geoff Egan,who is still sorely missed. Post-Med to modern finds are often disregarded by archaeologists, and by my work with the FRG and Post-Med Arch I am trying to increase the realisation among the archaeological community that they are a valuable resource which will be lost to future generations if we don’t stop disregarding them now. I hope I can do Geoff proud on this! 🙂

It would be remiss of me to mention what I do in a day without mentioning the time I spend on Twitter, which in some jobs would be labelled as time wasting! But as an archaeologist –  in addition to finding out all about what Stephen Fry and John Prescott are up to on a daily basis during my coffee breaks – I have found it a massively valuable resource in finding out about research projects and exhibitions which I would have no idea about otherwise.  Social media is here to stay and should be used as a resource by everyone to communicate events and ideas. And judging by the really interesting post already up there from #dayofarch, many people are coming around to that.


Another typical day: a bit of everything

My day started as the clock struck midnight and an email conversation started mid-evening continued into the early hours.

I had been searching for the ‘footprint’ of the well-known author of Historia Ecclesiae and many other worthy tomes, known to us as Eusebius of Caesarea. I treat ancient texts as artefacts, an approach that seems to puzzle many historians. Though a number of scholars, some quite eminent, have questioned the veracity, or accuracy of this Eusebius (the name is quite common in antiquity, which is why this one is usually distinguished with of Caesarea or Pamphili), my opening approach is more simple: did he exist?

Having checked the literature and texts back as far as I could, I still could find no ‘footprint’, so asked a number of libraries and specialists. At around midnight, one responded and with three potential leads, the most promising being a possible discovery of a papyrus in Egypt. Undeterred by night, I began immediately to try and track it down.

The morning sun awoke me and again, there were emails from my transatlantic and antipodean colleagues, with papers for me to study and questions to answer. After maybe two hours, I was outside eating breakfast, with laptop for company. Today’s the day and I have to think about what to write here.

I missed a teleconference in order to get to a local dig, where I had been asked to take a look at a cavity which had opened unexpectedly. I did look and also felt around underground, as far as my arm would reach. Big and apparently empty. I advised to be careful not to break the surface, step in and twist an ankle. It’s being examined now.

Though my particular interest is panhellenism in classical antiquity, which draws my attention to sites from the Indus (Greco-India) to the Nile, I am also involved with local sites.

The Deputy Major of Dover recently unveiled the newly finished Wolverton Case at the Astor College for the Arts Dover. This unique Anglo-Saxon display case will serve as an educational tool in the community for schools in the Dover District. The site of the newly discovered Anglo-Saxon cemetery lies at the northeastern end of the 7km long valley between Folkestone and Dover and is situated above the Nailbourne River at the point where the river flows into Kearsney Abbey then onwards via the river Dour through Dover.

A few years ago, I surveyed a hill near Wolverton and since then, taken part in excavations there and further surveying. It’s become quite a big, community project and also a training site. We also have metal detectorists from a local club working with us. Summer weekends see quite a lot of people there, of all ages. There are Bronze Age barrows, an Anglo-Saxon cemetery and masses of worked flints. I like the site for all sorts of reasons, but mainly because it offers a continuous history of the island people I love most.

Now the evening approaches, I am working on cartography, making a map. I am trying to identify the many headwaters of the Euphrates and see if (and how) they relate to baptising cults.

Kanzfra Sattar is one of only five Mandaean bishops left. BBC News.

Kanzfra Sattar is one of only five Mandaean bishops left. BBC News.

One of the better known today is known as the Mandaeans:

Mandaeans appear to have settled in northern Mesopotamia, but the religion has been practised primarily around the lower Karun, Euphrates and Tigris and the rivers that surround the Shatt-al-Arab waterway, part of southern Iraq and Khuzestan Province in Iran. There are thought to be between 60,000 and 70,000 Mandaeans worldwide, and until the 2003 Iraq war, almost all of them lived in Iraq. Many Mandaean Iraqis have since fled their country (as have many other Iraqis) because of the turmoil of the war and terrorism. By 2007, the population of Mandaeans in Iraq had fallen to approximately 5,000. Most Mandaean Iraqis have sought refuge in Iran with the fellow Mandaeans there. Others have moved to northern Iraq. There has been a much smaller influx into Syria and Jordan, with smaller populations in Sweden, Australia, the United States, and other Western countries.

Yazidis on the mountain of Sinjar, Iraq/Syrian border, 1920s.

Another sect is the Yazidi, members of a Kurdish religion with ancient Indo-Iranian roots, primarily a Kurdish-speaking people living in the Mosul region of northern Iraq, with additional communities in Transcaucasia, Armenia, Turkey, and Syria in decline since the 1990s – their members emigrating to Europe, especially to Germany. Yazdanism blends elements of Mithraism, pre-Islamic Mesopotamian religious traditions, Christianity and Islam. Their principal holy site is in Lalish, northeast of Mosul. (Wikipedia)

Those whose place of origin lies within easy reach of the Yazidi religious center Lalish (Pers. Lāleš, in present-day Iraq) tend to use the translation “baptism” for the ceremony of mor kirin, which in fact shows similarities to Christian baptism. This ceremony should ideally take place at Lalish, since water from the holy Kaniya Spî (White Spring) or the only slightly less holy Zimzim spring must be used. (Initiation in Yazidism)

To me, archaeology is not divorced from the past. We today are a part of our own cultural layer, just one more atop many earlier.

Detectorists and statistics, or why there’s more maths in Archaeology than you’d think

Tea drinking seems to be a common theme amongst the Day of Archaeology entries, and why not? A nice hot beverage does seem a fairly fool-proof way to stimulate the grey cells, and is an almost mandatory accessory for a research student like myself.


My name is Fliss Winkley, and having completed a Masters in Artefact Studies at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL and done a brief stint training with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), I am now studying again. I’m in the first year of a PhD investigating metal detectorists’ relationships with landscape, inspired by the experiences of seasoned detectorists and searchers who I met whilst working with the PAS. I hope to issue a questionnaire to at least 1,000 detectorists (representing 10% of the conservative estimate of the number operating in England currently) to find out just how many of them detect regularly on the same landscape and how they feel about it, particularly in terms of reconstructing a historic landscape and generating a sense of place.


First step today is to check the emails: I find not only that library books need renewing, but also that I have had several responses on Twitter, the former referencing a traditional method of research that I am very comfortable with, the latter a new technique of outreach that I am only just beginning to understand! This reminds me that I need to upload more information to the Twitter page as well, to give people a better idea of what I am up to.


Next step (thanks to a reminder e-mail from my supervisor) is to design a cover sheet for my questionnaire, so that paper versions can be circulated far and wide, alongside the web-hosted version with which I am hoping to snare those respondents I can’t get to! I already have a cover sheet on the online version, but managed with great oversight to forget this might be useful in the paper copy! The relationship between metal detectorist and archaeologist has often been a prickly one in the past, with old prejudices remaining steadfast in some corners even today. As such, I have to be diplomatic when approaching potential respondents and take care to emphasise on the cover sheet that they will not be asked to reveal the exact locations of their findspots (the point at which an artefact is found).


After attaching the completed cover sheet to the questionnaire, I am ready to distribute the word doc and the link far and wide and cross my fingers that the responses start coming in. I am determined to achieve my target of 1,000 responses so that my data is statistically sound: I didn’t go through the pains of battering my fluffy theoretical brain with basic statistics to get a bad set of data and spoil it all! So if you, or anyone you know is a metal detectorist, please take a look at my questionnaire, and help an archaeologist today!

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..

New Bronze Age finds at the British Museum: When…

So, I’ve just completed 4 hours of looking at one of the new hoards at the British Museum.

To put the next few posts about what I spent that time doing into context we’ll start with ‘when’ the European Bronze Age, and more specifically British Bronze Age, was.

For those that know nothing about the Bronze Age, here’s a couple of links:

The British Late Bronze Age lasted from 1300-600 BC. This period is broken down in to a small number of phases, based on the bronze objects types, which we call LBA (Late Bronze Age) 1, 2, 3 and 4. These four metalworking phases have been given names taken from sites or finds that somehow best seem to describe what was around at the time. These are Penard, Wilburton, Ewart Park and Llyn Fawr. Of course, there were different things happening all over Britain, and lots of regional traditions in terms of the types of objects they had, and therefore different areas such as southeast England, western England, northern England, Wales and Scotland all have slightly different names for these phases, so as to reflect these local conditions. The phases I’ve mentioned mainly apply to southeast England but are applicable for England as a whole for the most part.

Although many researchers have contributed to this scheme over the years, and certain details have changed significantly, particualrly in light of new scienetific techniques in dating, this basic scheme was laid down as early as 1881 in a wonderfully modern book called ‘ The Ancient Bronze Implements, Weapons and Ornaments, of Great Britain and Ireland’. In the study of bronze objects, new isn’t always better, and I and many others, still use this book today.

The hoard I was invited to look at came from our Late Bronze Age 2 phase, or Ewart Park phase. Some of the objects from this phase have been illustrated below. This phase is characterised, above all else, by the many hundreds of groups or ‘hoards’ of bronze objects, many of which appear in broken or damaged condition, and then buried in the ground.

  Today, many of these hoards are found by metal detectorists, and often end up in a local museum where the objects are identified, not just for dating purposes but also to help tell us a little more about the lives of people at that time.

How do we do that? Essentially, we play a game of snap…


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.