This is the last in a series of seven introductory features about the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) Roadshows, happening nationally on November 27 2004.
The Romans were once in Leicestershire, and they certainly left their mark. The county bears a legacy of roads from the days of the great Empire and objects dropped by those who once travelled down them now make it an interesting place for metal detectorists and amateur archaeologists. Read our story from 2003, to find out how some intriguing gold jewellery was found.
An unusual Roman find - a seal box used for sealing documents or keeping small objects safe. Found by Mr P George of Melton and Belvoir Club.
The same ground is also yielding more and more exciting Scandinavian and Iron Age objects, and one site in particular is proving irresistible not only to the county’s 400-strong team of volunteer fieldwalkers, but also to an undesirable contingent.
“There is a place called Vernemeton, just north of Leicester, which is a Roman name meaning great enclosure or sacred site,” explains Wendy Scott, Finds Liaison Officer for Leicestershire.
“It is thought to be one of our biggest Iron Age temple sites, but since an Iron Age coin hoard was discovered elsewhere in Leicestershire a few years ago, we think that the name does not belong to that place after all.”
Coins from the South East Leicestershire hoard site. Photo © Chris Royall
In 2000, Mr Ken Wallace, an amateur archaeologist and volunteer fieldwalker, came across some pottery that was identified as being from the Iron Age. Returning to the site with his metal detector, he unearthed his first hoard – a number of Iron Age coins.
As exciting as that was, little did he know that he had stumbled upon the first of a massive stash of 3,500 coins (at last count) and other artefacts.
“This temple really is like the Westminster Abbey of its time,” says Wendy. “We tried to keep the location secret, but everyone knows where it is and unfortunately we’ve had nighthawkers.”
Nighthawkers are the scourge of professional archaeologists. Whilst trying to piece together the past from unearthed objects archaeologists rely on members of the public and metal detectorists to bring forward their found items, preferably with details of where they were found.
Nighthawkers, as their name suggests, are the polar opposite of these helpful individuals.
One of the more interesting finds to emerge through the Portable Antiquities Scheme. So interesting that no-one has identified this mystery Scandanavian object...
“They go out in the middle of the night, looking for things on the site, and they just take away everything they find,” Wendy tells the 24 Hour Museum. “I wouldn’t call them proper metal detectorists – they’re just interested in the money.”
Understandably, then, she’s very pleased that one nighthawker has recently been convicted: “This is really good news. It sends out the message that they will be caught.” She adds: “We’re hoping that the site will be scheduled.” This would give it added protection against those who take away muddy objects under cover of darkness.
Nighthawkers are “a very small percentage”, says Wendy, who is enthusiastic about most metal detectorists – “especially those who record everything” – and judges the Portable Antiquities Scheme as a great success.
Another Scandinavian object. This time a harness cheek piece found by Mr C Bursnell of Melton and Belvoir Club when he was 15.
“Every object can tell us something about the past and I’ve seen objects that field archaeologists wouldn’t see by going to detectorist clubs.” Wendy is really pleased that she has a good relationship with Leicestershire’s four clubs, where she is able to identify diverse finds.
“Scandinavian objects have been very scarce, because of the materials they used. For example, leather and iron don’t survive well, and they lived in wooden houses. But now things are coming out of the woodwork, it’s quite exciting.”
One man brought in his first ever find which he had held on to since he was fifteen years old and Wendy identified it as a Scandinavian mount (a piece of a harness).
This Saxon pendant from the 7th century AD was found by Mr P Devenyi of the Hinckley Search Society last year.
Of course, Finds Liaisons Officers aren’t infallible and Wendy admits she can’t identify everything, including a Scandinavian object she describes as a two-headed beast!
And yet if you have something you can’t identify, it is well worth bringing it to a PAS roadshow, as FLOs have recourse to lots of expert knowledge and have been in training for a long time.
In amongst the pottery, flint and star finds, though, are some duffs, says Wendy: “We do get brought things that are probably bits of tractor – I’m not going to be able to say much about that apart from that it’s modern!”
This is the final feature about the Portable Antiquities Scheme but we will be returning to each of the areas after the weekend to see what turned up at the each of the Finds Roadshows.
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.
In North and East Yorkshire Simon Holmes 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 demonstrated the enormous range of finds that have turned up on her watch.
To read about the Portable Antiquities Scheme and get more information about the Roadshows read our Roadshows feature where we talked to Michael Lewis, Deputy Head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.