Roman Coins: Behind the Scenes at the Yorkshire Museum – Alec Boyd and Kerrie Hoffman

The Yorkshire Museum’s Numismatic (money and medals) collection is composed of over 44,000 objects, approximately 35,000 of which are coins. As you can imagine with a collection of this size the documentation and curation of these objects is a massive undertaking. We took up the challenge of helping curator Andrew Woods with this task. One day per week for 6 months we volunteered to photograph primarily Roman Republican coins and then update the records for these objects to provide a more precise location in the museum store. This work makes the collection more accessible both physically and digitally.

A wooden storage cabinet with one tray removed. Coins are placed in each of the round depressions.

A wooden storage cabinet with one tray removed. Coins are placed in each of the round depressions.

Meeting at 10:00am we proceeded to the museum’s research room situated behind the scenes at the Yorkshire Museum.  Our daily routine began by setting up state of the art photography equipment. Andy would then select a series of objects for the day.  Our main task was to use this equipment to photograph these objects and produce high resolution digital images.

Numismatics volunteer Kerrie using a copy stand to produce high-resolution images of coins.

Kerrie photographing coins

These images could be used for both documentation and presentation material. We then had to update the museum’s collection database to include these new images and revise the object’s storage locations.  Each day we took turns alternating between these two tasks to broaden our exposure to the curatorial process.

Numismatics volunteer Alec updating the YMT database with information about coins

Numismatics volunteer Alec updating the YMT database with information about coins

For each coin we photographed both the obverse (heads) and the reverse (tails). A coin’s obverse usually depicts the current ruler whilst the reverse often shows an image (such as a god, animal, or structure) or phrase which symbolises the ruler’s sovereignty. During our time on this project we took over 6000 photographs of over 3000 objects, averaging approximately 200 per week. As we worked through the collection we saw the faces of 45 emperors and 13 kings.

A Gold Solidus of Valentinian that has been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons and viewed 16000 times

This is a coin we photographed in our first week and the Wikipedia page has been viewed 16000 times

The images taken for this project are not exclusive to the YMT online public resource. They have already made their way to Wikipedia and we hope that they will soon be featured in an online collection with contributors across the world. The image above is featured on the Wikipedia article: ‘Gold coin‘.

Over the six months we did not work exclusively with the Roman collection and had opportunities to document coins of other archaeological periods. Highlights included:

  • Photographing and preparing parts of the Waterloo collection for display at the Castle Museum.
  • Documentation of the Blake Street Hoard, the oldest hoard from York.
  • Preparing English Civil War coins in the Breckenbrough Hoard for display.
  • Photographing the returning Vale of York Viking Hoard now on display at the Yorkshire museum alongside our images.

We are now coming to the end of this project, with the hope that this and similar projects will allow more people to contribute to the documentation of the museum collections and further their accessibility. Many fantastic opportunities also currently exist, details of which can be found on the YMT website.

We will be completing another post to show you interesting coins we have photographed, and some of our personal favourites, so check back soon!

This post originally appeared on the York Museums Trust Blog: Roman Coins: Behind the Scenes. It was posted by Pat Hadley on behalf of Kerrie and Alec.


How to Tell Scotland’s Stories in Just Twelve Months

It’s a busy day here in the Dig It! 2015 office and we can’t wait to share it with you. Just because we’re in an office and not knee deep in mud, doesn’t mean that our jobs are any less exciting! Trust me.

OpeningIn case you haven’t heard of us, Dig It! 2015 is a year-long celebration of Scottish archaeology, co-ordinated by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and Archaeology Scotland. Two fantastic organisations, which are definitely worth checking out.

From kids taking over museums, and people exploring the story of their own local area, to digs, festivals, competitions, there are so many ways for people to get involved. We will also be exploring our past through song, art, performance and story-telling. It will be exciting, fun, grassroots and messy – just like archaeology and archaeologists.

But somebody has to set it all up! This means that the Dig It! 2015 team is always running around, meeting with organisations and individuals and coming up with fantastical new ideas to celebrate Scottish archaeology. Yup, “fantastical”. You heard me.

Today, wGlasgowe started off by catching up from yesterday’s meeting in Glasgow. Two members of the team met with a Scots Language Development Officer at Education Scotland to discuss how they could get involved in Dig It! 2015.  The resulting idea was the “Archaeology of Language” using two of our themes – Identities and Arrivals – to explore how the people who have settled in Scotland have left their mark on our language, through the words we use, the placenames we have and even our own surnames. 

We also have a very interesting meeting next week, where we will start to combine archaeology with gaming, so we made sure that everyone was caught up on all of the details. This could be a great way to engage with young people who might not have thought about archaeology before now. What will come from the meeting? A game? An app? A lecture? Who knows!?


For lunch, we walked through the Meadows to Summerhall, which is a creative hub for the arts. We’re currently working with various artists and theatre companies, and we are always looking to add something new to the programme. Again, this is a great way to engage with new audiences. After all, archaeology is for everyone!

Finally, we booked our tickets to Orkney. Orkney is pretty much bursting at the seams with Scottish archaeology, so we can’t wait to visit! We’ll be meeting with various organisations in order to find out what we can do for them. By helping them to raise awareness of their efforts, these organisations should be able to reach a wider audience, which will enable them to continue their important work.

Then it was time to head out, but even on our days off, we always have our eyes open for any potential project tie-ins. On Sunday, for example, one of our team members will be hosting an archaeology Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. An archaeologist’s work is never done!

If any of you would like to get involved with Dig It! 2015, please do not hesitate to contact us at It’s going to be a great year!

Cara Jones – A rare but busy day in the Archaeology Scotland office

Me and my desk - we actually rarely interact

I work for Archaeology Scotland’s Adopt-a-Monument Scheme, a five year initiative which supports and facilitates local community archaeology groups who wish to conserve and promote their local heritage. We work throughout Scotland – from Shetland to Dumfries and Galloway and aim to work with 55 groups over the five-year scheme. In addition to our more traditional projects, we are also funded to do outreach projects – taking archaeology to non-traditional heritage audiences. I would call myself a ‘community archaeologist’ – a job title which can be open to interpretation and can encompass many different activities and tasks.

My Day of Archaeology is a little less active than last year’s post, and lot less active than the day I originally had scheduled. I had planned to travel over to the West Coast, visit one AaM group near Oban to give advice about how to start reporting on their results (from formal dissemination through reporting and archival submission, to wider dissemination through a Wikipedia page) and then go on to another group to help them with an open day they have planned for this weekend.

Instead, I have a rare but busy day in the office which usually starts by checking emails. This is actually only my second day back after a two week holiday and yesterday my email box was bursting with around 140 emails. Ok some of those were things like Google Alerts, blog posts etc, which can be quickly scanned and then filed away, but many of the emails were from my groups, colleagues, other heritage professionals, many of which contained requests for help, advice, project updates and questions about upcoming fieldwork, workshops or new projects. I am still getting through the backlog…

After email checks, I usually start to go through the dreaded ‘to do’ list, which usually seems to get longer not shorter. Today’s tasks include edits to one of my group’s interpretation leaflets (which, in addition to paper copies, will be available digitally on their website); source an image and gain permission for it to be reproduced on a groups interpretation panel; edit the text for an interpretation panel; check that the welfare facilities are in place for fieldwork starting in two weeks’ time; ring one landowner to arrange a site meeting; ring another landowner about submitting required paperwork; commission elevations for an interpretation panel to accompany a planning application; arrange space (with a computer suite) for an upcoming digital recording workshop; progress a Listed Building Consent application; arrange a facilitator for an upcoming interpretation workshop; have a meeting with a colleague about an education resource we are co-producing….and if I have time, start to review a copy of a WW2 diary for one of our outreach projects (this might be my ‘treat’ task at the end of the day!)

Today must seem like a very dull day to anyone reading this post, but this is the reality of a full time job within community archaeology. In order to go out and do the fun stuff, we have to work hard to make sure everything is in place. Our groups have the passion and belief and put in so many hours to make the project successful, but not all of them have the skills to make it happen, which is where we help!