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Portable Antiquities Scheme logs its millionth archaeological find

photo of a metallic petal-like object with a hole at its top

The millionth find – a humble medieval harness pendant. Courtesy North Lincolnshire Museum

The Portable Antiquities Scheme reveals its 1 millionth find as it continues to log archaeology found by the public despite Covid19

A medieval harness pendant found in Binbook Lincolnshire has been revealed as the one millionth individual archaeological find discovered by the public and recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS).

The harness is one of almost 50,000 archaeological items recorded in 2020 – including over 1,000 Treasure finds that can be acquired by a national or local museum for public benefit – revealed by the Treasure Annual Report for 2019 and the PAS Annual Report for 2020.

The reports show that 49,045 archaeological finds were recorded throughout the first year of the pandemic. This number is lower than previous years as opportunities for metal-detectorists to record their finds were limited due to lockdowns and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Other important finds logged in 2020 by the PAS, which is overseen and administered by the British Museum, include an unusual hoard of Roman coins buried in three pots, a unique gold cross with runic inscription, and a silver medieval seal matrix that would have been owned by a high-status woman.

photo of a broken ceramic vessel filled with old coins

One of the pots containing the Roman coin hoard. Courtesy Trustees of the British Museum

photo of a gloved hand retreiving coins from a ceramic vessel

One of the pots containing the Roman coin hoard. Courtesy Trustees of the British Museum

photo of a Roman coin hoard in the ground

The Roman coin hoard in situ. Courtesy The British Museum

The Roman coin hoard was found at Wickwar, Gloucestershire by metal detectorists Mark Lovell and Mark Wilcox who contacted the local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO), Kurt Adams, who organised an archaeological excavation to help preserve the hoard.

It was then ‘block lifted’ to keep it intact and brought to labs at the British Museum where it was X-rayed and carefully micro-excavated.

Subsequent conservation work has revealed over 6,500 coins dating to the 4th century AD from the three separate vessels, which seem to have been put in the ground at different times. A geophysical survey has been carried out on the site of the hoards to try and learn more about its past landscape, as it may be a previously unknown Roman site.

The early medieval gold pendant cross with its rare runic inscription is being hailed as ‘unique and mysterious’ by experts at the British Museum. Found near to Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumbria it dates to around AD 700–900 and carries six runes, with two parallel scratches that may be an attempt to reinstate a rune that had been obliterated by the suspension hole.

The runic inscription reads ‘ᛖᚫᛞᚱᚢᚠ’, which can be translated as Eadruf. According to Professor John Hines (University of Cardiff) this is a “hitherto unknown and etymologically mysterious name” potentially making Eadruf a new addition to recorded early medieval names. The local Berwick Museum and Art Gallery hopes to acquire the find.

photo of a gold cross with runic marks running from top to bottom

Unique early medieval gold cross with runic inscription. Courtesy Durham County Council

three views of an elliptical seal with the image of a kneeling figure

Silver medieval seal, Courtesy Kent County Council

Another inscribed name was found on the unusual silver medieval seal matrix dating to the early 13th century found at Hollingbourne in Kent. The name, Matilda de Cornhill, accompanies the image of a kneeling figure – assumed to Matilda herself – praying to the enthroned Virgin and Child, which was a popular motif in the medieval period.

As the matrix is made of silver and in a woman’s name, experts believe it likely that Matilda was a person of status in her own right. ‘Maud’ and ‘Matilda’ were used interchangeably during this period so the owner may even be Maud de Cornhill, the steward of St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury, whose husband Reginald De Cornhill (active 1189–1215) was High Sheriff of Kent and Constable of Rochester Castle.

“The Portable Antiquities Scheme is an essential part of the British Museum’s national activity, reaching out to people across the country to record their archaeological finds so that these can add to our knowledge of the past,” says Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum.

“If these finds are Treasure, they may benefit museum collections across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Essential in this work is our partnerships with museums and heritage organisations across the UK, as well as those abroad where the PAS is admired and emulated.”

The British Museum’s PAS database finds.org.uk/database holds information on over 1,554,000 items all freely accessible to the public. Most finds – over 91% of those discovered in 2020 – are made by metal detectorists.

photo of the obverse and reverse of a medieval gold coin with the image of a man and a phoenix

An Early Medieval gold psuedo-imperial tremissis in the name of Anastasius I dating to circa AD 491-518. Fond in Kent in January 2020. Courtesy PAS (CC BY 4.0)

A complete silver bodkin of post-medieval date (1500-1700) found by Medway History Finders, Sheppey 2019. Courtesy PAS (CCA BY 4.0).

In 2020 over 93% of the finds were also made on cultivated land, where they are susceptible to plough damage and artificial and natural corrosion processes. To help record these precious discoveries Finds Liaison Officers maintain regular contact with 83 different metal-detecting clubs, and engage with many other finders via email and social media.

These relationships are already paying dividends with 54 parties waiving their right to a reward in 35 of the Treasure cases reported in 2019; this figure is likely to increase as cases are completed.

“It is important to acknowledge the positive contribution made by metal-detectorists and other public finders across the country,” adds Michael Lewis, Head of PAS and Treasure at the British Museum.

“If recorded, following the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales, these finds are transforming the archaeological map of Britain. No matter how small or fragmentary these finds are all part of the great jigsaw puzzle of our past.”

New sites discovered through recent finds recorded by the PAS include a Neolithic productive site in Hampshire, Bronze Age barrows in Wiltshire, a potential Roman villa in Cornwall, a Roman burial site in Cumbria, two possible Roman settlements in Oxfordshire, and what seems to be an Anglo-Saxon burial site in Warwickshire.

The counties recording the most PAS finds in 2020 were East Yorkshire (5,584 finds), Norfolk (5,206) and Suffolk (4,048). For the same year, the areas where most Treasure was reported were Norfolk (104 cases), Hampshire (71) and Suffolk (57).

Explore the finds and the work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme at https://finds.org.uk/

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