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.


The First World War archaeology of Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty



Our HLF funded WW1 project is currently gearing up for the University of York’s fourth season of archaeological research excavation at Breary Banks, Colsterdale. To date the University have been exploring the early twentieth century camp established for navvy workers and taken over for the War effort as Colsterdale Camp – training camp for volunteer recruits, including the ‘Leeds Pals’. Later in the War the camp served as a prison for German POWs.
Yesterday the project hosted a fascinating talk in Ilkley that focused on the impact of the War on the town through accounts in the Ilkley Gazette, and the potential for First World War archaeology in Wharfedale, to the south of our area, including at Farnley Hall, army training camp perhaps best known for hosting the Northern Command Gas, Grenade and Signal School.
On Sunday we are holding a First World War-themed event aimed at families to mark the Festival of Archaeology and reference the return of the archaeologists to Breary Banks, in the historic nearby town of Masham. The event will be held in Masham Town Hall, Little Market Place, and we hope to welcome everyone with a passing interest in history, archaeology or their local heritage. For more information about this event see www.nidderdaleaonb.eventbrite.co.uk

Day of Archaeology blog – a view from rural Yorkshire

The Day of Archaeology is a chance for me to talk about real life archaeology as an historic environment adviser in England. I’ve read the various Day of Archaeology blogs with interest over the past few years and I’ve seen exciting blogs of jungle excavation, lab work, and contract archaeology on building sites (my life for 10 years before I started my current role) but I haven’t seen much about the life of a rural historic environment adviser in the green hills of Yorkshire so here goes…
I work for Natural England, which is the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England. We look after nature conservation (particularly SSSIs) and landscape – and cultural landscapes include archaeology and historic buildings. I’m based in Yorkshire and I advise on 5 counties worth of rural archaeological sites in farmland but have colleagues across the country. I bet you thought Historic England did all that!

Morning: I have some sites that I want to discuss with colleagues so instead of working from home on my laptop, I am going into our Natural England offices in Leeds. I work in a large mixed office where most of the staff has an ecology background; however they have made me very welcome – although they do tend to assume that I know everything about the entire history of human civilization and can answer at the drop of a hat. The reality is that I have a BSc in Archaeology (focusing on European prehistory and environmental archaeology) and an MA in Archaeology & Heritage Management including project management, buildings archaeology, landscape archaeology and cultural resource management. However in my work I have to be a generalist and do a little bit of everything, mainly advising farmers on how to manage the archaeology that they have on their land, as well as arranging projects to help them improve the condition of degraded monuments. Originally I was a city girl but I’ve learnt more about farming in the last 5 years working in rural areas.

I really enjoy this work. It feels very constructive to improve the condition of neglected sites rather than just dig them up and record them so that they can be built on. Some of my past sites are quite spectacular like the stabilization and conservation of Frith Hall.

My favourites are the little sites though. Places such as Oxygrain’s packhorse bridge –
few people will ever see this tiny scheduled monument in a moorland landscape other than from the nearby road bridge. It was collapsing and on the At Risk Register but since we grant aided its sensitive repair I know that it will stand for another few hundred years. Along with writing guidance and giving general advice I design several projects each year (some of which run for 2 or 3 years), mostly managed by architects or archaeologists on site. Once set up each requires periodic input to keep them running smoothly. It’s like spinning plates, giving each one the right attention at the right time.

I also enjoy getting out and about talking to farmers and landowners – I have to be able to inspire and enthuse them about archaeology and the historic environment if I want them to undertake projects as all our schemes are voluntary. Sometimes a tiny change in land management such as planting a grass strip around a barrow can make a massive difference to whether archaeology deteriorates from ongoing ploughing or is preserved for future generations to enjoy. Some farmers ‘get’ archaeology right from the start, others need persuading, but they usually come around in the end.
In my job I get a LOT of e-mail which is considerably less enjoyable than getting out and about. It takes me 2 hours or so to work through this. I also update my diary with today’s site visit so my boss knows where I will be (for safety). We work a lot on trust but he could call and check up on me at any point and he will also be checking my diary to see what location I am working in. After the e-mail, there’s time for a quick lunch before I head out.

Today I am going on a visit to a farm which is considering entering an agri-environment scheme. These are schemes where farmers agree to farm their land in ways that are sympathetic to wildlife and habitats, don’t cause water pollution, are friendly to school visits – and most relevant to me – good for the historic environment and landscape too! This farm is a former parkland, one of the more complex sites I work on, so this will be a joint visit with ecologist colleague, Fiona.. If I was going out alone I would phone a ‘buddy’ with a finish time when they need to check up on me as working alone in remote locations with no mobile phone signal can be dangerous, but today we’re fine as a pair. I borrow the work camera and handheld GPS to take out with me in case we need to map new features but mainly we want to talk to the farmer about their plans for the land, the historic and natural features that they already know about and how to manage them, and whether they are interested in joining an agri-environment scheme.

After a quick chat (with cup of tea) and a look at some plans in the farmer’s kitchen we head out in his Land Rover. We’ll hike once we are closer to the fields. Fiona is very excited about the wood pasture in the parkland (an area of mixed grassland and trees which is grazed) which could be habitat for rare insects and bats – she checks the trees for signs of droppings that could be a roost. I am looking at boundaries such as iron railings and estate walls, structures, and views and vistas to see what the potential is for restoring some of the original design. I know from old photos and talking to the farmer that this parkland used to have an avenue which has lost a lot of trees through age and disease – replanting this in the old location would be a great ways of enhancing the historic feel of the parkland as well as creating good habitat (although we might have to wait 100 years or so for the trees to get big enough for that!). The farmer is concerned that his cattle might damage the trees when planted so we discuss different types of tree guards to protect them or possibly moving the cattle to another field and grazing this one with sheep instead. It’s not as glamourous as the building work but it’s all important.

Evening: I’ve dropped off Fiona, returned the hire car and got a lift back to my house from the hire company so now I log on quickly to my laptop. I need to download the camera shots and write up some notes from today’s visit. It’s been a long day (it’s about half 5 now but I need to work past 6 to make my full hours) but I check my diary too in case I have anything to prep for Monday. Luckily there are no visits just an office based meeting where I have already made notes on the agenda so there’s no more work to do on that. Eventually it’s time to log off and pack everything away securely.

Night: I draw a really strong line between my work life and my home life – I find it the best way not to burn out. If archaeology was not my job it would be my hobby – but it is my job and so tonight I’m going out with friends. I have a much better social life than when I was a field archaeologist (less away work, more time for hobbies, family and friends) but I wouldn’t swap those times either. I think I needed to learn and experience field archaeology before I could be effective in a role like this.

The Star Carr project gets visitors!

On Tuesday 26th of July the Star Carr project at the University of York got a visit from Dr Alice Roberts and a film crew from 360 production for the new series of the BBC’s Digging for Britain.

Alice talked to Nicky Milner (one of the project’s co-directors) and Ben Elliott (a Mesolithic antler-work specialist).

Project assistant, Pat Hadley tells the story of a great day learning about a brilliant site.

Nicky and Alice share a joke

Nicky and Alice share a joke