Arts Minister Hails Success Of Portable Antiquities Scheme

By David Prudames | 26 October 2004
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Shows a photograph of both sides of a gold coin. One carries the profile of Roman emporer Nero, while the other shows a man seated with one arm raised in the air.

Found in Cornwall, this rare gold Aureus coin from around AD65 - 68 was the equivalent of a month's wages for a Roman legionary.

Last year an incredible 47,000 historic artefacts were found by amateur archaeologists and reported, identified and recorded through the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

From prehistoric weapons to a Victorian antidote to witchcraft, the unearthed objects span almost 500,000 years and were all discovered by metal detectorists, gardeners, farmers, builders or walkers.

This extraordinary success was revealed on October 26 at London’s Roman Amphitheatre, where Arts Minister Estelle Morris, announced the publication of the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s Annual Report for 2003/4.

"The past year has seen a huge rise in the number of items found and reported by the public, largely thanks to the expanded network of Finds Liaison Officers working for the Portable Antiquities Scheme," she explained.

Shows a photograph of Arts Minister Estelle Morris standing in a virtual recreation of an amphitheatre and talking in front of a television camera.

The Arts Minister launched the report in front of the gathered media London's Roman Amphitheatre. Photo: David Dawson.

"Finds officers, volunteers, community history groups and amateur archaeologists all work together to make this a tremendously successful scheme and I'm particularly pleased to see its reach extending and so many items being reported."

Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and led by MLA - the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council - the Portables Antiquities Scheme is run by a network of Finds Liaison Officers.

The scheme is there to record all archaeological objects found by members of the public, who are helped by officers to identify and record their discoveries, as well as get them into museum collections.

Last year, the scheme was extended into Wales and the number of finds staff more than doubled, helping over 2,300 people.

Shows a photograph of a silver gilt brooch. It is shaped to form a man and a lion.

This elaborately decorated silver gilt brooch dates back to the 13th century and experts believe it represents the figures from the Arthurian romance 'The Knight of the Lion' described in tales by Chrétien de Troyes of the late 12th century.

Among the artefacts unveiled at the launch, was an exceptionally rare gold Roman coin dating back to around AD 65-68. Known as an Aureaus and bearing the profile of the Emporer Nero, the coin was the equivalent of a month's wages for a legionary soldier and is the first ever to be found in Cornwall.

But it’s not just individual artefacts that have come to light. The scheme does, on occasion, lead to much larger discoveries.

In March this year, a metal detectorist took a brooch he’d found to his local Finds Liaison Officer in Cumbria, who called in professional archaeologists. The result was an extremely rare Viking burial site, containing the graves of four men and two women, which was described as the "find of a lifetime".

As well as launching the annual report, Estelle Morris also announced the publication of the 2002 Treasure Report, which lists items found in previous years that qualify as Treasure under the 1996 Act.

Shows a photograph of a green glass bottle known as a Witch Bottle.

The burying of a Witch Bottle under a building was common practice in the 17th and 18th centuries, but this example shows witches were still being warded off in Lincolnshire in the Victorian era.

Details of 240 new cases reported during 2002 are included of which 104 have, or are being, acquired by museums across the country. Tellingly, it also reveals the dramatic increase in reported treasure finds in areas where Finds Liaison Officers have been appointed.

According to Estelle Morris, the rate of finds will continue to rise: "Everyone's excited by the idea of buried treasure," she said.

"It also provides a unique insight into our history and it is good that the number of finds being reported is increasing rapidly and may reach around 500 by the end of this year, representing almost a 100 per cent increase on 2002."

This rise, she said is "testament to the effectiveness of the Portable Antiquities Scheme," adding that its expansion last year led to an average five fold increase in the reporting of Treasure.

Shows a photograph of a gold Lamella. It is a thin sheet of gold on to which has been inscribed various symbols and words in Greek and Latin.

An extremely rare and important object, this Roman gold Lamella (first-second century AD) invokes the protection of the eastern god Abrasax and carries a prayer for the health and victory of Tiberius Claudius Similis (whose name suggests he is from the Rhineland).

"Metal-detector users are responsible for the great majority of Treasure finds," she explained.

"I am pleased to see how present arrangements are encouraging both them and archaeologists alike to co-operate on identifying and recording finds ensuring that important information about our heritage is not lost."

Her words were echoed by Mark Wood, Chair of MLA, who added: "We've all dreamed of uncovering hidden history, from ancient deeds in our attics to Saxon coins in our gardens. The Portable Antiquities Scheme was set up to advise those of us lucky enough to discover such gems."

"With nearly 50,000 items logged last year it provides an amazing record of some truly extraordinary discoveries," he said, "and as the country's largest community archaeology project it does more than any other scheme to democratise history and open up the past to people from all walks of life."

For more information about the Portable Antiquites Scheme, visit the organisation's website: www.finds.org.uk.

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