History of the collection: Portable Antiquities & Treasure
The Department of Portable Antiquities & Treasure was established in April 2006, when the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) secured full funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) until March 2008.
The scheme aims to advance knowledge of the history and archaeology of England and Wales by systematically recording archaeological objects found by the public on its website www.finds.org.uk. It seeks to raise public awareness of the educational value of studying archaeological finds in their context, as well as increasing opportunities for public involvement in archaeology. It also works to strengthen links between metal-detector users and archaeologists.
The 1996 Treasure Act, which replaced the medieval law of Treasure Trove in England and Wales, was designed to encourage reporting of archeological finds. However, a great many objects found by members of the public were not ‘treasure’, but were still important in building up knowledge of the archaeology and history of England and Wales.
In the past, finds such as these were, in some cases, taken to local museums to record. However, many more finds were unrecorded as there were not always systems in place to record them.
In March 1996, during the run-up to the passing of the new Treasure Act, the Department of National Heritage (LDNH, now the DCMS) published Portable Antiquities. A discussion document, which contained proposals for both voluntary and compulsory schemes for reporting and recording non-treasure finds. A variety of interested parties were consulted, including professional archaeologists and metal detectorists.
The general response was that recording all archaeological finds is important and a consistent voluntary scheme should be established.
The DNH provided funding for a two-year pilot, starting in September 1997. Host organisations were chosen in Kent, Norfolk, the West Midlands, North Lincolnshire, the North West and Yorkshire. A Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) was put in each pilot scheme and the six schemes were co-ordinated from the DNH, the funding being channelled through the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA).
The FLO’s job was to provide a point of contact for finders; to record and provide further information on the finds and their history and, providing they did not qualify as Treasure, return them to the finder. They were also there to advise finders on archaeological issues and the legislation governing the search for, and discovery of archaeological artefacts.
Finds were recorded onto a program that was devised for the purpose. In July 1999 this was published onto an online database. Over 13,500 objects were recorded in the first year.
At the end of 1998 the first six posts were joined by a further five funded by the HLF in Dorset and Somerset, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Hampshire and Wales, while an Outreach Officer was also appointed at the British Museum.
In April 2002, the HLF decided to support the bid to establish a comprehensive national scheme covering the whole of England and Wales for three years starting in April 2003, bringing about the scheme as we know it today. The scheme now consists of 47 posts, co-ordinated from the British Museum: 36 Finds Liaison Officers based in museums and archaeological services around the country and providing a comprehensive service throughout England and Wales, six specialist Finds Advisers, and a central team of five.
Greater emphasis was placed on the importance of the scheme’s educational role and outreach work, developing interest in and knowledge of history and archaeology, and encouraging best practice when dealing with finds.
The focus of the PAS is on the recording of finds, rather than their acquisition by museums, although some important objects recorded by the scheme have found their way into museums.
Among them is the Staffordshire Moorlands Trulla, which was discovered in 2003 by metal detectorists in north Staffordshire, and reported to the PAS. A copper alloy pan with colourful enamel inlay, it has inscriptions detailing forts on Hadrian’s Wall. The pan was acquired jointly by the British Museum, the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent and Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle. It has proved to be a hugely valuable find, providing much information about Roman Britain.
The Ringlemere cup was found near Sandwich in Kent in 2001 by a metal detectorist and is a rare example of a Bronze Age ritual object. The British Museum purchased the cup and the proceeds were shared between the landowner and the finder. However, it led to the discovery and professional excavation of the Ringlemere barrow.
A unique collection of Iron Age gold jewellery, known as the Winchester hoard was found in 2000. It is especially interesting as a stylistic representation of the transition between British and Roman authority in the country at that time.
In 2005 a metal detectorist in East Riding found a Roman copper alloy coin die for a denarius of Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor in the first century AD, which had been used to make counterfeit coins. The find was reported to the PAS and later acquired by the Museum.