The Portable Antiquities Scheme database as a tool
for archaeological research
- Roger Bland, Keeper
- Katherine Robbins, Research assistant
- Daniel Pett, ICT Advisor, database project manager
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More than 815,000 archaeological objects recovered by members of the public from across England and Wales have been recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database since 1997. Some 66 PhDs, 12 major research-council funded projects and 138 MA or BA dissertations are known to be using this dataset.
However, the lack of research into the biases inherent within it means the data is not yet being used to its full potential.
This project will therefore explore the factors that underlie the PAS database. It will analyse the spatial distribution of the data, comparing it with other archaeological datasets in an attempt to enable the many researchers who use it to understand its inherent biases. This study will enable a rapidly growing, unprecedented and unparalleled database to be fully exploited in future research on the archaeology of the UK.
There is an urgent need to understand in greater detail the factors that influence the geographical distribution of finds data from the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the relationships between collection practice, artefact type and space.
This project will therefore answer the question: what underlying factors govern the spatial distribution of finds recorded by the PAS?
An academic conference in 2014 will include papers from experts analysing and discussing data supplied by the PAS on a range of periods, artefact types and geographical areas. These will be published online and in print.
A definitive study of the data recorded in the PAS database will identify and analyse key features and define the best ways to present it, with its inherent biases, in a transparent way. In addition, guidance for researchers on how to interpret the spatial distribution of PAS data will be developed on the PAS website. Articles in popular magazines and peer-reviewed journals will also be produced.
The PAS was founded in 1997 and has operated across England and Wales since 2003 through a network of locally-based Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs), managed by staff at the British Museum and supported by National Finds Advisers.
Over 14,000 metal detectorists and other members of the public have offered finds for recording. The PAS database contains more than 815,000 records, providing a rich and detailed source of information increasingly used by academic and professional archaeologists to study the past and inform planning decisions.
Images: top, a pile of radiate, Roman coins; bottom left, the Ringlemere gold cup; middle, the Silverdale Hoard; bottom right, coins from the Frome Hoard. All objects found and reported through the Portable Antiquities Scheme.