The Portable Antiquities Scheme has uncovered thousands of important finds throughout the UK. Picture © PAS.
Searching for treasure and metal detecting seems to be one of those quintessentially English obsessions. Sometimes solitary, sometimes carried out in groups it has become one of those signifiers of our eccentricity.
TV Programmes like Time Team and Hidden Treasure have only added to a surge in interest. After all, who can now deny the thrill involved when finding an ancient artefact or the excitement in discovering something that affords an instant connection to someone or some time in the distant past?
Now the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), the voluntary recording scheme for many of these archaeological objects and finds, has organised a series of ‘finds roadshows’ with the aim of enticing more members of the public into bringing their discoveries in for appraisal by the scheme's Finds Liaison Officers.
Anna Marshall (S&W Yorkshire Finds Liaison Officer) records finds at a local metal-detecting club. © PAS.
“This is a great opportunity because the Finds Liaison Officers do a lot of finds days out in the field but the finds roadshows will bring them all together under one roof,” Michael Lewis, Deputy Director of the PAS, told the 24 Hour Museum.
“We have tended to work with metal detector clubs in the past because they yield about 60 to 70% of the finds - they tend to be easier to target and a finds liaison officer can meet up to 60 in one go," added Dr Lewis. "But a big problem is meeting other members of the public and independent detectorists. I think one way of achieving this is through the roadshows.”
Organised for Saturday, November 27, 2004, and located in seven regions in England and Wales, the roadshows are designed to consolidate on the success of a scheme that has been bridging the gap between amateur and professional archaeology since pilot schemes began in 1997.
Essex Finds Liaison Officer Caroline Macdonald investigating a find below 'ploughsoil level' during a controlled metal detecting survey in northeast Essex. Picture © Colchester Museums.
Treasure hunting by members of the public has caused much debate – with many professional archaeologists voicing concern that unsupervised metal detecting is in effect looting our archaeological heritage.
But in recent years there has been something of a sea change, with both the metal detecting and archaeological communities finding some common ground. This is due in large measure to the PAS.
With thousands of finds reported each year the amateur discoveries are increasingly being viewed as an important source for the fuller understanding our past. Finds Liason Officers are building structured relationships with metal detectorists and field walkers; find locations are being carefully logged and recorded ensuring our archaeology doesn’t merely disappear into private collections.
Kurt Adams (Gloucestershire & Avon Finds Liaison Officer) examines an object at a finds day at Gloucester Cathedral. Picture © PAS.
Dr Lewis believes there is, however, still some way for the scheme to go and that some people may be mindful of the pressure some local museums are under.
"Perhaps they are worried about pressurising curators with their finds," he explained, “but one of the main aims of the PAS has been to change perception and to make people realise that you can go to museums with your finds and say; ‘what is this?’”
"The PAS is an effective way for us to find the finders," added Dr Lewis, "now the roadshows offer members of the public the chance to come to us."
So if you have ever found an archaeological item in your garden, dug something up using a metal detector or stumbled across an object whilst walking the dog – don’t throw it into a drawer and forget about it – get along to a finds roadshow and find out what it is.
Not only might you be sitting on a valuable piece of treasure but you can also contribute to an ever-increasing understanding of Britain’s past.
The roadshows take place in Colchester, Coalville, Exeter, Reading, Shrewsbury, Wrexham and York. For full details of times and locations visit the Portable Antiquities Scheme website at www.finds.org.uk
To give you a flavour of the forthcoming roadshows, the 24 Hour Museum has been talking to Finds Liaison Officers in the regions.
Over the next week they will be telling us about their experiences of administering the PAS as well as revealing some of the amazing finds they have encountered - giving an insight into the archaeological landscape that surrounds us.
The series started in Essex where we talked to Finds Liaison Officer Caroline McDonald.
Next we looked at Devon where Nicky Powell revealed some of the things that land on the desk of an FLO.
In Shropshire and Herefordshire FLO Peter Reavill explained the historical topography of the Welsh Marches.
Simon Holmes in North and East Yorkshire expounded the virtues of 'community archaeology'.
In Wales Mark Lodwick explained how field walkers are returning a vast amount of archaeological evidence about pre-historic Wales.
In Oxfordshire and Berkshire Kate Sutton told us about the vast range of finds coming through the scheme.