The Portable Antiquities Scheme database as a tool
for archaeological research

Project team

Department of Britain, Europe and Prehistory 

Supported by

The Leverhulme Trust

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About the project

The Stafforshire Moorlands trulla

There is an urgent need to understand in greater detail the factors that influence the spatial distribution of finds data from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and the relationships between modern collection practices, artefact types and space. This project will therefore answer the question: what are the underlying factors that govern the distribution of finds recorded by the PAS?

There are wide variations in the frequency of finds recorded on the PAS database from around England and Wales. For example, there are 28.6 objects per km2 from the Isle of Wight, compared with 0.7 per km2 from Devon; the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk account for 20.4% of all Treasure since 1997, but for only 7.0% of the land mass of England and Wales, and 4.1% of all Scheduled Monuments. As yet, we do not fully understand how to interpret these variations. For example, do the concentrations of finds from the Isle of Wight and East Anglia mean these areas were much richer than other parts of England or do they simply reflect the amount of metal detecting there?

This project will explore such variations, and identify differences between the distributions of PAS finds and other archaeological datasets (for example, Historic Environment Records). To do this, the data will be mapped within a Geographic Information System (GIS), and subject to a variety of spatial statistical techniques, to generate intensity maps of find locations and selected classes of finds. It will explore correlations between the intensity maps, and will model the distribution of finds with respect to the constraints acting on the dataset. Such constraints will be identified through a survey of amateur collection bias. This survey will have applications outside archaeology (for example, in natural history where a great deal of data is gathered by amateurs) and will also impact on studies of similar datasets outside England and Wales. The combination of spatial analysis with a study of finder behaviour has not, to our knowledge, been undertaken in any other field. This study will therefore help to transform the use of the PAS database in research.

This research will build upon a pilot study conducted using data from Hampshire, Northamptonshire and the Isle of Wight.