metal detecting

Talking torcs in Newark

Our day of archaeology was spent at Newark English Civil War Museum examining the Iron Age Newark torc. This torc, which was discovered by a metal detectorist in 2005, has recently been bought by the museum and has rightly returned to the town where it was found.

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With an eye to replicating the torc, we had the very great pleasure of being able to examine the torc up close and even to hold it. It is a truly beautiful thing. Apparently showing signs of wear on one side (the silver in the electrum has become prominent), it is unexpectedly heavy and…even more surprising…very springy. It would clearly have been easy to get onto your neck although I’m not sure I’d have fancied wearing it for too long as I fear it would have caused neck ache!

The photos show Roland William examining the torc…..and demonstrating the ancient art of torc manufacture through the medium of fruit!

A truly memorable day… 🙂

Tess Machling & Roll Williamson

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

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 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.

An Early Bronze Age flat axe

Dot Boughton showing finders a flat axe from Lancashire

Dot Boughton showing finders a flat axe from Lancashire


this is my first post and I think what’ll be doing today (mostly) is axes! I have some finds to write up (will tell you about those later) and a flat axe to record, though I might not get the record done as report deadlines are looming, too, eeeeeek!

I gave a talk at South Ribble Museum last week and a member of the public handed in this flat axe (see image) which two of my metal detectorists (who came to the talk) and I discussed at great length. The axe was found in the Charnock Richards area, but the Iain and Sheila normally go detecting in the Chorley area and although they have found loads of lovely Roman and medieval artefacts, Bronze Age artefacts have so far been scarce!



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



Metal Detecting and Archaeological Advocacy – Some Observations and Ideas from a Detectorist

Archaeologists and Metal Detectorists collaborating near Montpelier, The James Madison Estate.

Archaeologists and Metal Detectorists collaborating near Montpelier, The James Madison Estate.

I’ve been metal detecting as a hobby since age 15.  As my mastery of the equipment and abilities to identify and explore sites  improved, so did my respect for the Archaeological community.  I discovered the long-view of our own form of time-travel and now I spend a fair bit of time assisting Archaeologists and Preservationists with my skills.   I am hopeful that I will do this even more in the future.  Along the way, I’ve taken a keen interest in encouraging cooperation between the groups in the USA, considering the important work done by professionals while considering the rights of the hobbyists to enjoy their pastime on private property.

Because of this position,  I am asked my opinion about the disputes that emerge between groups and how we might address them.  I thought I would spend a few moments to give a broad, high-level view of some of my answers.  This perspective earns me few metal detecting friends.  I’m rarely invited to drinks and am sometimes chastised in the metal detecting forums for siding with the “archies” on many issues.   Some cannot understand why I hate the “American Diggers” reality show with such passion.

It seems to me that this list, or one like it, extended and massaged, could form the first steps in a meaningful dialogue to bring together those willing from both groups.   These questions come up again and again in forums, radio programs and at club meetings:

1. We metal detect at old homesteads “long forgotten” by Academia.  What value do archaeologists see in the ‘relics’ of say an 1840′s homestead in rural MO, or one of the well-documented, yet non-major/non-significant Civil War skirmish sites? And how to do they see this as valuable to society?

Broadly from my observations as a detectorist, Archaeologists think in terms of an infinite timeline.  Faced with limited resources, prioritization about how limited academic resources are used is required, but this does not mean giving up on a location to a free-for-all by relic hunters.   Many instead consider it a “professional” postponement for dozens perhaps hundreds of years – where future archaeologists, equipped with android field workers, nano-bot goo and virtual reality might glean new information from a common site and the information preserved by previous generations.

The detecting community shifts in their seats when asked to leave objects in the ground, especially as we watch 10-ton equipment deeply till soil in a field or bulldozers dig up sites for new homes.   It seems that with improved cooperation, a tag-team approach could save the data from these sites when Archaeologists are unable to commit resources and CRM firms are not required.   Objects and context do not last forever – and some sites (especially unprotected, private land) will clearly never be considered for research.  There must be a balancing act in there some where – a class system for sites perhaps, or a certification program for access.

folk-art-rest-detector2. What if detectorists become more rigorous and find a way to productively contribute to the data set?

Detectorists willing to gather find data on private property hunts may have a role to play in discovering / describing historic sites– not unlike archaeologists attending relic hunting club meetings to learn about member’s findings.  It may be easy to see detectorists’ motivations for the rush of a great find, but it’s hard for Archaeologists to respect this because it rarely involves building reliable data or preserving an object’s provenance.   Could we employ detectorists in some way to drive low-resolution data into a common pool?  Would it be helpful?

The enabling technologies for data collection are here now – smartphones, including those sealed from the elements, are now on the market.  Some metal detectors have built-in GPS and data paths to Google Earth.   And what about how to get detectorists excited about participating?  Why not appeal to friendly competition – not for most valuable objects, but for best data gathering?   Badges, rank or simple online mentions  (think Klout for Metal Detectorists) could incentivize the detecting community to work with Archaeology and add to the data sets even during weekend outings.

3. Why do Archaeologists want to let artifacts fade to dust ?

This is a common theme in the detectorist conversations – sometimes illustrated with barely-identifiable buttons dissolved with fertilizer or iron objects heavily damaged by plows or livestock.  Detectorists believe that artifacts will fade to dust if not retrieved and such retrieval is often delayed beyond the point of no return by lack of Archaeology resources.   I try to explain, often unsuccessfully, that while objects do degrade, they do so on a very long timescale, and by removing them from the soil, you frequently accelerate their destruction.  Archaeologists have a limited capacity to properly preserve and conserve objects properly, so the preference is often to leave the objects in the ground.  Detectorists see this as a race against time – will the objects be “saved” before the someday-maybe professional excavates the area?   You can see why this discussion gets heated.

team-lunch14. Why do Archaeologists not engage detectorists more often?

I would hope to hear from many of you with your own reasons.   I’m not saying that the professional community never reaches out – some do.   But the detecting community does not perceive it that way.

I think that some Archaeologists are fearful of the implications to their career which may come from engaging with metal detectorists.  It’s understandable, as Relic Hunters have (and do) decimated significant sites world-wide.  And now, (un) reality TV shows keep focus on the value of artifacts in “dollars and cents,” to keep audiences… despite the fact that most hobbyists rarely sell anything they find.  It is the detecting / relic hunting community’s burden to overcome this with increasingly trusted relations and productive partnerships.  But those can be hard to begin.

Secondly, there is an assumption, I believe from personal observation, that detectorists are often unable to comprehend scholarly hypothesis, methodology, interpretation and conclusions drawn up by professionals.  I say that, while there are a number of “slack jaws” in our ranks who scoff at quarter-inch screening and fiddly note-taking, there are also some highly enlightened historians with broad field and lab skills.  I have myself witnessed seasoned detectorists and the equipment they master transform the productivity of a survey site, bringing many new ideas with them.

5. How should Archaeologists engage with detectorists such that the relationship and outcome is co-beneficial?

I have found that when detectorists are actively involved in the hypothesis and planning for a given survey or research project, a lot of potential and productive energy is released.   The conversations shift from artifact-centric and “field technician” discussions to team-oriented, long-view and conclusion-centric collaborations.  I’ve heard a seasoned and skilled detectorists ask… “Why do they just want me to report beeps in my assigned grid?  Why don’t they use my 30 years of experience in locating and pinpointing sites?”

It’s worth mentioning that detectorists come from all walks of life.  They can be influential in the communities in which they live.  Furthermore, when Archaeologists participate with “ordinary citizens” and the process becomes less abstract and mysterious thanks to their advocacy,   public support for Archaeology may improve.   As the baby-boomer generation begins to explore their heritage, we may see an increase in interest which could be very good for community Archaeology and financial support.

Using smartphones for amateur dataset supplementation6. What technologies could help with Archaeology and Detectorist Community Cooperation?

As a new generation of digital-ready, social-media savvy metal detectorists and Archaeologists enter the ranks, interesting dynamics emerge.  The “digital relic hunt” has detectorists locating and photographing finds in-situ, then sharing them with online social networks.   This “Like” and “Share” gratification is similar to the relic-hunt-club meetings with wooden display cases spread around the room.  Might this be something we could tap?  The thrill of finds keeps their hobby interesting while actual objects are kept in context, bound for proper cataloging and preservation.    Even simply photographing objects found and sharing with trusted, local Archaeologists in a “cloud” storage folder might offer some interesting outcomes.

Some other discussions we’ve had include US-version of the Portable Antiquities Scheme which is tech-based and better suited for our property culture.  We discuss how improved GPS accuracy and shared databases in the cloud could provide a steady river of information to academia, while addressing the privacy concerns of property owners.  And field use of tablets, smartphone applications and more mean that the lowly relic hunter is more plugged in than ever to the online world.  It seems there should be a way for us to plug in to the Archaeology community, too!

Postscript:  Forgive any sloppiness above – I wrote this on the day of the #dayofarch project and in some haste. Thanks for allowing a non-academic enter your ranks and participate in this fun experiment.   If you would like to review some of my other views and my ever-evolving perspective on this issue, please subscribe to my blog at    I would love your input, your debates and to become a bit better friends with you all.

Day of Archaeology – LAARC Lottery Part 4 (Metal Finds)

Now onto our Metal store – this entire store holds a host of treasures, and more coffin nails than you’d care to imagine!

Our first lucky object from shelf 496 comes from site ABO92 – Abbott’s Lane, excavated in 1992 by the then Museum of London Archaeology Service (MOLAS). Being a waterfront site this excavation produced a wealth of metal objects – all surviving due to the aerobic conditions of burial.

Our object is a medieval pilgrim badge that depicts the mitred head of Thomas Becket dating to c.1530 – 1570. An additional badge of better condition was also excavated from the site. The cult of Thomas Becket was one of the most popular in London during the medieval period – not surprising as he was also considered the city’s unofficial patron saint. These badges would have been collected at the site of pilgrimage – this one may have therefore travelled all the way from Canterbury in Kent, before being lost or perhaps purposefully discarded. The badge is a miniature imitation of the reliquary of a life-sized mitred bust of Becket that was held in Canterbury Cathedral.


Lead pilgrim badge

Lead pilgrim badge, depicting the mitred head of Thomas Becket dating to c.1530 – 1570, and from shelf 496 of our metal store


Publication photograph of a similar pilgrim badge to the one found on our shelf

Publication photograph of a similar pilgrim badge to the one found on our shelf (MOLAS Monograph 19)

Our second object, stored on shelf 593, is from the more recent excavation SAT00. Found in the upper stratigraphy this is a beautifully preserved pocket sundial.

Copper sundial

Copper pocket sundial, from shelf 593


A great source for comparison with these metal artefacts is the Portable Antiquities Scheme which holds the records of thousands of objects discovered, mainly through metal detecting, from across the country. Our sundial, excavated from the site of St. Paul’s Cathedral Crypt (SAT00), has a direct parallel with one found in Surrey.

Quoting from PAS object entry SUR-7790B4:

“These sundials are known as simple ring dials or poke dials (‘poke’ being an archaic word for pocket). The sliding collar would be set into position for the month of the year and, when the dial was suspended vertically, the sun would shine through the hole in the lozenge-shaped piece, through the slot, and onto the interior of the ring. The hour could then be read by looking at the closest gradation mark to the spot of light on the interior of the ring.”

Next it’s our Textile artefacts. Again, segregated and stored in a controlled environment, this store is humidified to preserve these important materials. Tweet using #dayofarch or #LAARC, or message us below, a number between 784 and 910 to discover, completely at random, what that shelf holds…

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.