Nail Cleaner & Roman Emperor Among 67,000 Artefacts Dug Up By Public

By David Prudames | 09 November 2005
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Shows a photo of two white-gloved hands holding a gold torc.

Culture Minister David Lammy gets his hands on an Iron Age torc found in Norfolk. © 24 Hour Museum.

A 1st century nail cleaner, a collection of cheese scoops and an almost forgotten Roman emperor are among the 67,000 artefacts and 427 pieces of treasure unearthed by members of the public in the past year.

These impressive statistics were revealed in the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) annual report and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) Treasure annual report, launched at the Museum of London on November 9 2005.

Announcing the publication of both reports, Culture Minister David Lammy welcomed the successes they outlined and praised the inclusive work of the PAS.

“What occurs to me is the diverse background of the people that are doing the finding," he said. "I get a sense of the real thrill that people get when they come upon something that’s valuable either economically or because it makes such an impact in terms of its historical significance."

a photograph of a man and woman talking at a launch event as people stand in the background in the foreground is a white plinth with some archaeological items on it

Faye Simpson, Finds Liaison Officer for London, discusses the work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme with the Culture Minister. © MLA.

But, he added, the power of the scheme reaches beyond finders to the wider community. Many of the artefacts end up in local museums, he said, where young people and children get exposure to them “and get that rewarding sense of pride in the wider narrative of this country. That’s exciting.”

The UK’s largest community archaeology project, the PAS is run by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and encourages the voluntary recording of archaeological objects found by the public. It operates throughout England and Wales via a network of Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs).

As well as identifying and recording artefacts as diverse as a Roman seal box and three 18th century cheese scoops, FLOs also play a crucial role in the reporting of treasure finds.

Under the Treasure Act 1996 finders of gold or silver objects over 300-years old and prehistoric base metal are obliged to report their discoveries, which are subsequently valued at the British Museum and acquired for public display.

photo of a Roman coin with the profile of Emperor Domitian II on it

Domitian II, whose existence was confirmed thanks to the discovery of this coin by a metal detectorist in Oxfordshire. © The British Museum.

Among the finds that have come to light in the past year is a stunning electrum torc (necklace) found in South West Norfolk and now residing at Norwich Castle Museum. It dates back to the Iron Age (around 200-50 BC), but is in such good condition it could have been made yesterday.

There’s also a 1st century nail cleaner, part of a Roman oil lamp and a coin bearing the image of Edward the Confessor.

Another coin unearthed in the last 12 months caused a bit of a stir when it turned out to prove the existence of a little-known Roman emperor.

Dating back to around 271 AD, it bears the image and name of Domitian II. The only other coin of its type to be found was discovered in France and was, until this example proved Domitian’s existence, thought to be a fake.

a photograph of two men holding a large ceramic skillet

Peter Peach (left) and Frank Basford, Finds Liaison Officer for the Isle of Wight, show off the Anglo Saxon skillet Peter found while searching in a field on the island. © 24 Hour Museum.

There are also personal items from the Anglo Saxon era such as the gold pendants and copper-alloy girdle accessories found in Kent by Nigel Betts, Brian Petit, Keith Stafford and John Darvill.

John told the 24 Hour Museum that heading out with a metal detector "is a form of getting back to the past. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle," he added, "you find these small bits and gradually over a period of years you get a picture of what’s been going on in the area."

In John’s case that puzzle turned out to be a female burial dating back to around 625-675 AD, which was discovered under the direction of Kent Finds Liaison Officer Andrew Richardson. A subsequent community excavation revealed what is now believed to be the source of the finds.

John’s been detecting for around 25 years and considers the PAS to be an invaluable companion and authority for his fellow amateur archaeologists. "People coming into the hobby," he said, "need to know the significance of what they’re finding and I think this scheme certainly does help people understand and record their finds."

Shows a photo of three cheese scoops carved out of what appears to be bone.

Peter Olivant happened upon these three 18th century cheese or apple scoops on the Thames foreshore. © MLA.

This mutually beneficial relationship between finders and the PAS is something the Deputy Head of the initiative, Michael Lewis, holds very dear.

"It’s nice to hear the minister say such positive words about the scheme," he told the 24 Hour Museum. "It’s clear he recognises that the finders do this not for financial gain but for their interest and love of archaeology. It’s obvious that finders want to do the right thing."

The success of the scheme, he added, has led to enquiries from archaeologists in France, Germany and Holland who have been impressed by the way it works and are looking to set up something similar in their countries.

"It demonstrates that some people are looking to the scheme and see it as something that might be the way forward," he said.

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