Museum of Liverpool

Archaeology at Museum of Liverpool

I am Curator of Archaeology and Historic Environment at the Museum of Liverpool. My functions are wide-ranging, which makes for a varied and interesting job. My role is about facilitating access to the archaeology of the region – whether it’s developing collections, sharing knowledge and information, providing opportunities for people to gain experience of archaeology, or giving opportunities to discuss or report finds.

This morning I attended a meeting about the forthcoming exhibitions and events at the Museum of Liverpool. I find my work getting the regional archaeology collection and information about the archaeology of north-west England out into the public domain some of the most fulfilling elements of my work.

I worked on the development of the Museum of Liverpool’s content from 2005 until it opened, and that presented the opportunity for hundreds of items from the archaeology collection to be out on display for the first time. The museum is place-based – centring on Merseyside’s long and varied history; and story-led – using collections to illustrate the stories of people’s lives in the past. Items from the regional archaeology collection have been used to tell a range of different stories, from the changing sea level and formation of the Mersey in the ‘Great Port’ gallery, to the ways in which individuals have literally or metaphorically ‘left their mark’ in Merseyside in the ‘People’s Republic’ gallery. Many items from the regional archaeology collection are on display in a 38 metre-long timeline on the first floor of the museum which explores Merseyside from the last ice age until the present.

We currently have a temporary exhibition on display in the atrium of the Museum – one of the very first things visitors see as the come through the door. This is about recent excavations in Rainford, near St Helens. A community archaeology project, Rainford’s Roots, has explored the early industrial history of the village, which produced ceramics from at least the 16th century and clay tobacco pipes from the 17th century. See for more information.

We’re planning a number of small exhibitions over the coming months to feature some other recent finds, but with funding being ever-increasingly tight we’re not able to do everything we wou;d like to. The meeting I attended this morning brings together all the curatorial staff from the museum, who’s remits range from prehistory to contemporary collecting, and encompass military history, collections of vehicles, and social history as well as archaeology. The Museum is special and important to innumerable communities and individuals in different ways, and our programme of events and activities goes some way to reflect that. Museum of Liverpool is nothing if not varied – the exhibition which follows the Rainford display of 16th and 17th century ceramics consists of hundreds of colourful plastic ducks sailed down the River Mersey in a race as a great annual charitable event for the local Claire House children’s hospice.

Another area of my work I especially enjoy is working on community archaeology fieldwork. This afternoon I undertook some research towards an Archaeological Desk-Based Assessment (DBA) and a Project Design for a forthcoming community archaeology project we’re developing within Liverpool (still top secret until funding is all in place!). Doing all our planning work in advance of excavation is vitally important, whether it’s a DBA considering the existing archaeological knowledge of the area and archaeological potential, a project design planning where to excavate, methods, equipment, timescales and potential outcomes, or a risk-assessment – they’re all important parts of the picture to ensure we’re as well-informed as possible before a spade is thrust into the turf!
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Recording finds in Chester

Early Medieval Strap End

Early Medieval Strap End

I am the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s Finds Liaison Officer for Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside, and today I was visiting the Grosvenor Museum in Chester where I hold finds day on the second Friday of each month.

My day started well with a queue of three visitors as soon as the doors were open. The first finder was a local metal detectorist who frequently records his finds on the PAS database. His grandson had found a Post-Medieval signet seal ring combined with a pipe tamper, similar to this example LVPL-A563A1. After writing out a receipt for the object the finder left and was followed by a local field walker who had brought me a bag of stones. Although they ‘fitted in his hand’ the stones had not been worked and upon further investigation I discovered they had been found near a river which explained the amount of wear. It was a relief not to have to carry them all away with me!

A couple more visitors came and went with small objects to add to our knowledge of the local area. Next came a detectorist who I had not see in a while. He showed me an object which his wife had found a number of years ago. This had been recorded by my colleague as a Post-Medieval drawer handle as it has very similar qualities. The record can be found here LANCUM-2D85A8.

The finder then explained he had just gone back to the same field and found a long curving pin which he took out. After having a ‘Eureka’ moment he had realised that his pin was the same greyish green patina as his wife’s object and asked her to dig it out of their box of unidentified finds. It was a perfect match and a Post-Medieval drawer handle suddenly turned into an Iron Age pin! The pin is similar to the swan necked type which date from 300BC to AD50. He also brought a lovely thumb-nail scraper and a 14th century seal matrix for me to record.

Following these exciting finds there was a bit of a break between visitors allowing me to catch up on Photoshop, the less exciting side of my role. My last visitors of the day was a married couple who detect locally and are keen to record their finds. Having showed me a group of interesting finds the previous month, I had asked them if they would allow me to display their finds in the new PAS case which will be in the Museum of Liverpool from next month. They were happy to loan their objects to us for six months and had brought them in along with a couple of new discoveries. They have found a number of Early Medieval finds including this lovely strap end LVPL-D1295B and this Early Medieval buckle LVPL-BFBC1E


Both of these objects are unusual finds for the Cheshire area where we don’t see many Early Medieval objects. However these new records are starting to show interesting patterns of activity. You can see their finds from next month at the Museum of Liverpool and after a bit of Photoshop in the office next week the pin will be available to view here.

A day in the life of… a community archaeologist!

My name is Sam Rowe and I’ve been an archaeologist since graduating in 2009. I am currently the Community Archaeologist at the Museum of Liverpool where I have worked for 3 years.

Being a Community Archaeologist means doing a whole host a different jobs in one go. One day I be working with volunteers on an excavation or in the museum on a handling session, and the next I will be writing project reports and the more tedious tasks (like finances!) No day is ever the same which makes it such an exciting job! The best part of the job is working with a range of different people and bringing people closer to the archaeology of their local area.

For the last three weeks I’ve been managing a community excavation in Rainford in St Helens, Merseyside, as part of the ‘Rainford’s Roots community archaeology project’ ( We have been excavating the site of an industrial clay tobacco pipe workshop on a site now occupied by Rainford library.

This season’s dig has been hugely successful with lots of volunteers getting their hands dirty and learning new skills. We’ve had people excavating, recording, taking survey measurements, and washing finds, and a whole host of visitors have been to take a look at the site. We’ve also installed a small case of objects inside the library to display objects found during our excavations.

We uncovered a whole host of objects associated with previous activity on the site including clay tobacco pipes, kiln waste from the production process, industrial waste (slag), animal bones, glass and a whole range of pottery. Industrial archaeology isn’t always the most exciting project in term of finds (you won’t be finding neolithic flints or Roman coins!), but there is always something to find and is a fantastic introduction to practical archaeology. It’s a great way to get out of doors, meeting new people, and learning about local heritage.

Today I am writing a presentation on the project and getting prepared to host a tour of a new display case in the Museum of Liverpool which exhibits a huge collection of post medieval ceramics discovered during the Rainford’s Roots project over the last two years.

You can follow the project on twitter @rainfordsroots and facebook.

You can found out more about community archaeology at the Museum of Liverpool on their website:

Volunteers excavating and recording the site at Rainford library

Volunteers excavating and recording the site at Rainford library

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Mapping Interactive Workshop – Festival of British Archaeology (28 July 2011) by Sam Rowe

As a Community Archaeology Trainee for National Museums Liverpool every day at work is different for me; some days I will be excavating an industrial site with a group of volunteers, other days I will be surveying a graveyard with a local society, assisting with museum education workshops, and at other times accessioning objects for museum collections. I love the range of activities I get to do as part of my training.

I have also been involved in several events for the Festival of British Archaeology. Last Thursday I helped run a workshop in the Merseyside Maritime Museum on the Mapping Interactive resource that will form part of the History Detectives gallery in the new Museum of Liverpool, which incidently also opened its doors during the festival fortnight. The interactive map of Merseyside will allow the public to explore local buildings and places, peeling back layers of historic mapping to reveal how the landscape of Merseyide has changed since the last ice age up to the present day.

Thursdays’s workshop was a chance for the public to get a sneak preview of the early stages of this new learning resource before it enters the museum later in the year. Archaeologists who have been working on the project for the last few years were on-hand to guide visitors through the features of the map, allowing them to search for historic sites, buildings, famous people and periods of Merseyside. We also prepared a ‘lost places’ activity that highlighted several buildings that the centre of Liverpool has lost over the last millennia including Liverpool Castle and the overhead railway . Visitors were challenged in trying to place these lost building in the correct place on the map where they once stood in the city.

The Mapping Interactive resource has been formed from Historic records but also from pictures and information from the public and is still an ongoing project that anyone can get involved in.