Portable Antiquities Scheme "A Resounding Success" Says Minister

By David Prudames | 25 October 2002
discovered as part of a garden wall in Suffolk - a lower palaeolithic handaxe.

Left: discovered as part of a garden wall in Suffolk - a lower palaeolithic handaxe.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme Annual Report for 2000/2001 has revealed that a staggering 37,518 archaeological objects were unearthed and reported by the public during that period.

Amongst items discovered by history lovers armed with metal detectors are jewellery, coins and prehistoric household objects, an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Hampshire and a post-medieval kiln site in Dorset.

The scheme is vitally important to stop the kind of disasters that occur when unauthorised digging takes place: only recently Yeavering Bell, one of Northumberland's most important Iron Age hill forts, was ransacked overnight with, it is believed, a number of ancient bronze items stolen.

For five years Finds Liaison Officers up and down the country have been working on behalf of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to co-ordinate the regional collection, recording and identification of found historical artefacts.

this incredible gold cup was found by an amateur archaeologist with a metal detector near Sandwich earlier this year.

Right: this incredible gold cup was found by an amateur archaeologist with a metal detector near Sandwich earlier this year.

"The Portable Antiquities Scheme has been a resounding success since its introduction in 1997," said Arts Minister Tessa Blackstone.

"The country's archaeology is its hidden heritage, providing a priceless and irreplaceable record of the culture and social history of this island."

Dr David Miles, Chief Archaeologist at English Heritage, also commended the scheme.

bearing the inscribed name of its maker, this Roman tile was found in Monmouthshire.

Left: bearing the inscribed name of its maker, this Roman tile was found in Monmouthshire.

"English Heritage strongly supports the Portable Antiquities Scheme which, by bringing to light thousands of objects together with vital information about exactly where they were found, is altering our understanding of England's history," explained Dr Miles.

"As well as the fabulous Bronze Age gold cup from Kent and the Anglo-Saxon glass bowl from Hampshire, discovered through metal detectorists who have reported their finds, the scheme has given us new information about Scandinavian settlements in East Anglia and about the characteristics of early English settlements. Coins are also revealing more about Iron Age trading patterns."

However, these reported finds represent a mere ten percent of the total number of items found by metal detector users and others during the period.

Iron Age hill forts are often remote - easy targets for unuthorised searchers.

Right: Iron Age hill forts are often remote - easy targets for unauthorised searchers.

Now many in the UK archaeological community are calling for further controls on the use of metal detectors to back up the PAS.

Significantly, while it is illegal to use a metal detector or dig without the permission of the landowner, it is not an offence to trade in illicit archaeological objects and, unless a thief is caught in the act, police are unable to take action.

Archaeologists have called for the Government to tighten existing legislation, but until it does so, initiatives such as the Portable Antiquities Scheme provide an essential means of protecting and preserving the UK's hidden heritage.

If any budding Time Teamers out there have unearthed an artefact, or you just want to find out more click on this link to visit the Portable Antiquities Scheme website.

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