Visard mask

mask 2 mask 3

Continuing from my previous post (Go with the FLO) another find I spoke about this morning was one of my favourite finds I have recorded on the PAS database – a Post-Medieval Visard mask.

Recorded back in 2010, NARC-151A67 was brought to me by a builder demolishing an interior wall in a 16th century cottage near Daventry. Folded in half and placed on a flat stone inside the wall infill, which consisted of horse hair, mud, straw, etc, was a mask. The mask is black velvet exterior, a white silk interior and a pressed paper middle layer giving it structure. Sewn just inside the mouth was a small black glass bead.

At first thinking this must be a Victorian Halloween mask, some research soon showed that this was an almost unique Post-Medeival artefact. The only object quite like it belonged to a 17th century doll, housed at the V&A museum. The Lady Clapham doll has a complete contemporary wardrobe, including a miniature mask almost identical to the full-sized Daventry mask. This gave me a potential date.

Concealed objects are not unusual inside older houses. Shoes are a common item discovered behind walls, under thatched roofs and under floorboards. There are a couple of potential reasons for concealed objects – to ward off evil spirits and witches (the theory being that if someone is afraid of being cursed by witches, you place a prayer or spell on one of their garments and conceal it to draw the evil spirits away from the individual) , or a way of keeping your ancestors close to the family. Of course, not everything is superstitious or ritual in archaeology – objects can just end up accidentally swept up or discarded as rubbish.

Looking for references to these masks being worn, some paintings appear to show women wearing them. The de Longhi paintings Al Rodotto (1751)and la Rhinocerous (1785) (both links taken from Wikimedia) feature women wearing these masks. And in ‘Omnium Poene Gentium Habitus’ by Abraham de Bruyn, published in 1581, the line: “in this fashion noble women either ride or walk up and down.” is accompanied by an image depicting a lady wearing a mask with holes cut for the eyes (image taken from www.houseffg.org)

So what we appear to have is a mask that has survived in Daventry due to its superstition-led deposition inside a house in Daventry, and a mask type that was common among gentlewomen in France and Italy between c.1560 and c.1751.

It is possible that the masks were worn to shield noble women from the weather when out of doors, to avoid sun and wind burn in order to keep a pale complexion. The mask could also hide a womans identity when out in public. But of course, held on with a bead between the teeth, the woman could not speak when wearing the mask. Raising interesting questions about women’s actual role at social functions – were they meant to be neither seen nor heard in some social situations?

Quite an important and interesting find for the local area – and further evidence that, as a FLO, you never quite know what will be landing on your desk next!

Despite being found in 2010, this does fit in with 2015 Day of Archaeology because I have spend some of today looking into the mask for a talk on Concealed Objects that I will be contributing to at Northampton Museum in September. I have also today written an email to the owner of the mask to discuss the possibility of it being loaned to the V&A and put on display with is miniature counterpart, and to allow for further research. Proof that once something has been recorded on the PAS database, it isn’t forgotten. Research continues and all our over 1 million records are there to be used into the future.

A day in the life of a Liverpool FLO

As a Finds Liaison officer for the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme I am always kept on my toes as every day is different. Today began with the not so exciting task of answering emails. I then headed over to the Museum of Liverpool stores to get the Knutsford Hoard as I needed to take some more images of the objects. The Knutsford and Malpas hoards are due to go on display in the New Year as part of the Cheshire Hoards project funded by the HLF. We have an exciting array of events lined up but first the hoards will need to be cleaned and cataloged. It was brilliant to be able to excavate the Knutsford Hoard in 2012 thanks to the finder and landowner and is great to have them back in the museum again following their time at the British Museum. You can read our blog about the hoard here http://blog.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/2015/07/treasure-acquired-for-the-region/.

Finder and FLO uncovering the Knutsford Hoard

Finder and FLO uncovering the Knutsford Hoard

Photographing the Knutsford Hoard

Photographing the Knutsford Hoard

Knutsford Hoard

Once the hoard is deposited safely back in the store following a bit of photography I headed back to the office to meet with a local finder who came to collect some of the finds he lent me to record. Among the new finds he has brought this Post Medieval book clasp along with the usual musket balls and mounts.bookclasp

After enjoying reading #DayofArchaeology over a quick lunch and tweeting about my #Fridayfind https://twitter.com/VOakden_FLO/status/624585295321780224 I took out some finds from Congleton Metal Detecting Club to photograph before recording. There is just enough time to record a couple of finds on the database before heading home.

My Day of Archaeology however will not stop there, as after putting the kids to bed I will get to work on the final edits of my book ‘Fifty finds of Cheshire – Objects from the Portable Antiquities Scheme’ which I am hoping to submit to Amberly this weekend to be published in the coming months. So all in all quite a busy #DayofArchaeology.

A Week in the Life of the Staffordshire & West Midlands FLO

So far it has been a busy week with less time than normal spent in the office. This is the life of a FLO. Some weeks we spend lots of time in the office, other weeks we’re out and about visiting colleagues, museums, finders, coroners and other interested parties. It certainly isn’t a standard office 9 to 5 job. But that is one of the reasons why I like this job so much. That and the wonderful range of finds that I get to see on a regular basis.

Monday: Was a quiet day in the office, as none of my volunteers were in to keep me company. Therefore I spent it, catching up with paperwork and recording finds from a couple of my independent finders. I dealt with a mixture of finds from Roman pottery to Roman coins to post medieval coins. The highlights of the day were:

WMID-D0AC40: Roman coin: Complete siliqua of Valens

A siliqua of Valens, dated to 25th Feb AD 364 to 24th August AD 367, found in Lincolnshire. This was an interesting coin as siliqua are incredibly rare from Staffordshire, so it is only when the finders detect in other counties that I get to see such nice late roman coins. Normally the only late roman ones I tend to get, I often have to play ‘spot the reverse type’.

WMID-CCC70B: Roman: Incomplete Polden Hill Brooch

WMID-CCC70B: Roman: Incomplete Polden Hill Brooch

This was the other nice find, a lovely decorated Polden Hill brooch, dating from 75 AD to 175 AD. Polden Hill brooches are relatively common through the West Midlands but often, the bows are not as highly decorative as this example.

Tuesday morning: Was spent in Cannock Coroner’s court as I had been called to be the expert witness for 11 treasure cases that the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery will be acquiring through the Treasure process. All were fairly small cases, and not as internationally important as the ‘Staffordshire Hoard’ (now on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum, with small displays at Tamworth Castle and Lichfield Cathedral). However they are all significant finds for Staffordshire, so it is nice that they will be acquired by a museum so everyone can enjoy looking at them.



Tuesday evening: It was one of my regular club meeting nights. This time, I had the joy of the Coventry Heritage Detector Society. Club meetings are always interesting to attend. I get to find out what the clubs have been up to in between my visits and to see (and borrow) the latest finds to get recorded on the PAS database, and often a cup of tea and a biscuit

WMID-991F07: Roman Coin: complete nummus of Diocletian

WMID-991F07: Roman Coin: complete nummus of Diocletian

As part of my update to club members, I did mention about an interesting coin found by one of the club members. It was a fraction of a nummus of Diocletan, dating to AD 303. This coin celebrates Diocletian’s vicennalia (i.e. the 20th anniversary of his reign) in September 303. This kind of fractions is extremely rare. Two examples are recorded by Pierre Strauss for Diocletian. One is in now in the Cabinet des Médailles in Paris, the other one was sold at autions in 1954 (sale Münzen und Medallien XIII, 1954, no. 467). Another good example of why all late roman coins or ‘grots’ should be shown to the FLO. You never know what they may turn out to be!

The added bonus to the evening was that I won a homemade ginger cake in the club raffle. It made a lovely change as I normally don’t win anything.

Wednesday: Another day out of the office and the morning was spent dodging rain showers with the County Archaeologist, Stephen Dean, checking over a site for a possible coin hoard. The finder did come out to help with our search, however no hoard was located. The afternoon was spent, drying out and catching up with missed emails from the previous day and that morning.

Thursday: Finally back in the office for the morning and once again had to deal with various emails and catching up with admin paperwork. Mid morning, just after I had made a cup of tea, I had a finder come to visit me to show me a silver ring that he had found, and several horseshoes. All turned out to be fairly modern but during our conversation, it turned out that he regularly fieldwalked a field rich in flint tools. I was able to persuade him that next time he went, to make notes of exactly where he found each tool from, ideally to bag them up individually and then come back and see me in the new year with all of them.

Friday: Back in the office, with company today as I have some of my volunteer team in to give me a hand. My work has been varied as per normal. So far: I’ve chased up local museums for them to express an interest in acquiring a couple of local treasure cases; sorted out monthly statistics for my management on how many finds I have done and how many people I have visited at club meetings; met with two finders, handed back one lot of finds and took in a Middle Bronze Age spearhead; photographed some finds; and even managed to record a couple of finds.

Today, two of my volunteers, Helen & Carl are in. Helen has been working with me for nearly 18 months now and through her volunteer work, she has gained enough experience to get an internship with a neighbouring FLO, Alastair Willis over in Derby. Today she is continuing to work through the finds for the Midlands Metal Detecting club, so they are all ready to hand back to the members in August. For her 600th artefact she has picked the Middle Bronze Age basal looped spearhead that was handed in earlier. She has taken the photographs, and will spend the rest of the day researching it and writing the report on.WMID-244D11: Middle Bronze Age: Basal Looped Spearhead


Helen recording finds

Helen recording finds

Carl is developing his photography skills by working on 3D images. He is currently sorting out the photomasking of the Severn Valley ware pot from the Shrewsbury Hoard. It is thanks to volunteers like Carl, that we have started being able to take 3D images of finds brought in for recording.

HESH-658701: Coin hoard, 2009T450

HESH-658701: Coin hoard, 2009T450

The ‘photomasking’ stage is almost complete, and now we are looking at creating the 3D model using PhotoScan. So far we have done one ‘chunk’, with several more to do, but the point cloud is definitely beginning to resemble a pottery vessel! Excellent Work. Well done Carl.

Screensnap shot of 3D model in progress

Screensnap shot of 3D model in progress

Point cloud of the Shrewsbury Hoard

Point cloud of the Shrewsbury Hoard

The other volunteers on my team are: Claire, Gail and Richard. Both Claire & Gail attended the PASt Explorers Training Day at the British Museum on Monday, which they both enjoyed. When they’re in, like Helen, they help record some of the club finds.

Richard has been helping record some nationally important quartzite handaxes of Lower and / or Middle Palaeolithic dating as part of the ‘Waite Collection’. One of the last times Richard was in, we took some photographs of some of the handaxes so that 3D models can be created of them as well.

Without the assistance of all my wonderful volunteers, we could not do things like 3D models of artefacts but importantly also keep on top of the recording of all the finds that are handed in for recording by all the finders in Staffordshire & the West Midlands. Thanks to all of you.

FLO work – a 15 year olds perspective


My Archaeology Work Experience with Wendy Scott, FLO for Leicestershire,  by Lewis Monkfield (15).

 First Week

Monday – I went to the record office in  Wigston to set up a Viking exhibition, it was ok but maybe because it was my first day I wasn’t that confident to help or do anything. (he was very helpful! WS)

Tuesday – I went to the record office again as I more determined and confident to join in and help out as I knew what was needed. We then finished the exhibition mid-day and went back to County Hall and started on some objects which had to be recorded.

Wednesday – I was at County Hall identifying all the objects and treasure a detectorist found and started weighing, measuring and taking photographs of them. That then took all day and was still unfinished.

Thursday – I then went to Burrough Hill near Melton to do a dig, unfortunately I didn’t find anything but it was an experience to see what it is like for people who do this daily. I did find out that at the top of Burrough Hill there had been a body discovered, unfortunately they didn’t excavate it so I was unhappy. After lunch I met a nice women (ULAS finds officer) who showed us some Iron age and Roman finds. I met another women (Phd Student) who helped me identify bones of various animals and humans and how to tell if they were female or male which was nice of her.

Friday – I  spent all day putting the photographs on the computer and started to crop them ready for adding to the website. I had to do a lot of editing of Roman coins which had to be sent to the British Museum once completed, which took me some time.

 Second Week

Monday – After completing the photos I then had to put them on a database.  I had to describe them and say what age they were. To go with that I had to match the pictures to the objects and add a find spot, this is to show people who look at the database where the object came from.

Tuesday – I went to the archaeology store in Barrow and looked at all the collected items from people. There was a large variety of different things. The things I liked most and fascinated me were the bugs, beetles and birds in the Natural History collection, which were shown to me by Carolyn Holmes the Curator.

Wednesday- In the morning I was again identifying more objects which I didn’t like doing so early in the morning as I was still half asleep. But then when it came to mid-day I went to Melton Museum to set up an exhibition, I liked this as I organised many objects in my own way , also I met  man called Denis Wells (Secretary of Melton and Belvoir Search Society) who is really nice man to let us look at and display his objects. When I looked at it completed it looked really well organised, as we divided each level into a different time period.

Thursday – it was nearly the end of my work experience and for this day I helped Wendy sort out resource boxes and  categorize different period times and materials into their own little section. This was helpful as I learnt a bit more on how to identify what period they are from.  I tried to laminate words to go with the resource boxes and I made a mess, so yet again I had to cut the words again and laminate them. Wendy sent me home early as I was getting stressed!!

Friday – Last day – Today I helped Wendy finish the resource boxes and upgraded the Roman box and finished everything that was needed which was; cutting which I don’t like doing, and laminating which I mastered this time round. Because of my hard work for two weeks I was allowed to leave early as I was a big help to Wendy during work experience.

I have learnt a lot during my two weeks here at the County Council, as it was a challenge for me. I also had a lot of fun during work experience and I have met a lot of people. I also want to thank Wendy Scott for putting up with me for two whole weeks. I am delighted that Wendy has allowed me to see what she does for a living, which is kind of her. This work experience has shown me what she has to do day in day out, which is hard work! But most of all I’m happy that I came here as I have learnt a lot from Wendy.

Lewis digging at Burrough Hillfort