Happy St. George’s Day!

Knight and Dragon

23rd April is St. George’s Day. St. George is the patron saint of England. He is also the patron saint of Aragon, Catalonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Germany, Greece, Moscow, Istanbul, Genoa and Venice!

George was a Greek Christian and was born in around 275 AD and 285 AD in a place called Cappadocia, which is in Turkey nowadays. This was before England even existed!

He became a high-ranking Roman soldier, but when the ruling Emperor Diocletian began persecuting Christians in about 303 AD, George resigned from the army in protest, which made Diocletian very cross and George was thrown in prison. George was eventually beheaded in the Greek city Nicomedia, which is also in Turkey and now called Ä°zmit.

St. George became popular during the time of The Crusades during medieval times. Later, in 1222 the Feast of St George on 23 April was made a ‘lesser holiday’. Later still, in 1415 after Henry V beat the French at the Battle of Agincourt, St. George’s day became a major festival, and in time St. George became England’s patron saint.

Pilgrim's badge of St. George and the DragonThe most famous tale about St. George is the legend of St George and the dragon. St. George and the dragon can be seen on lots of objects that people bought as souvenirs when they were on holy pilgrimages. The PAS database has a few – have a look for LANCUM-619B37, DENO-826132 or DOR-9BC000 and then see what other St. George souvenirs you can find!

The Tale of St. George and the Dragon

Many years ago, in the town of Silena in Libya, a mean old dragon was terrorising the people of the town. To keep the dragon happy they fed it two sheep every day, but the town soon started to run out of sheep, so the king then ordered that the dragon should be given one sheep and one person instead! The unlucky person was drawn from a lottery and one day the king’s only daughter was chosen. The king was very upset and offered the townspeople money and half his kingdom if they would spare her, but understandably no-one wanted to take her place!

So off went the princess to the lake where the dragon lived. Now it just so happened that St. George was passing by the lake and saw the very scared princess. When he asked her what was wrong, the princess told St. George her story and St. George decided to help the princess. He jumped on his horse, picked up his lance and beat the dragon up! He then made a leash for the dragon and took the dragon for a walk to Silena. When he got there he made a deal with the townspeople that if they would be baptised to become Christians, he would kill the dragon, which he did. At the place where he killed the dragon the now much happier king built a church. Some people believe that the church contained a magical spring whose waters cured all diseases.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!




17th March is St. Patrick’s Day. St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. He was born sometime around AD 387 and is believed to have died on 17th March AD 460, more than a hundred years earlier than St. David.

St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain and when he was about 16 he was captured by raiders and taken to Ireland to become a slave for a few years. He went back to Britain, became a cleric, then became a bishop and returned to Ireland. In those days there weren’t many Christians in Ireland and St. Patrick converted a lot of people to Christianity.

Many people believe that St. Patrick used a shamrock leaf - like the one above - to help people learn about the Christian belief that God is made up of three parts. Nowadays the shamrock is the symbol of Ireland.

Legend says that St. Patrick chased all the snakes out of Ireland, which is why there are no snakes in Ireland today, but really there were never any snakes in Ireland to begin with!

St Patrick

Happy St. David's Day!

The 1st March is St. David’s Day. St. David, or Dewi Sant, is the patron saint of Wales, who is believed to have been born around the end of the 5th century AD and died on 1st March 589, during the early medieval period.

David’s mother was called Non and his father, Sant, was the son of Ceredig, King of Ceredigion.

During his life he went on pilgrimage through south Wales and the west of England, where he is believed to have founded several monasteries and churches, and became famous as a preacher. He also founded religious settlements in Brittany.

On a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the 6th century, David was made an archbishop and was presented with gifts of a bell, staff, altar, and golden tunic. These gifts later became relics, which people later made their own pilgrimages to.

David eventually settled at Glyn Rhosyn, in south-west Wales, where he founded a very strict religious community. Glyn Rhosyn later became St. David’s Cathedral, where David was eventually buried. St. David’s shrine at St. David’s Cathedral became a popular place of pilgrimage throughout the medieval period. David was made a saint around 1120, after he died.

St. David’s most famous miracle is said to have taken place when he was preaching in the middle of a large crowd in Llanddewibrefi, where it is said he caused the ground to rise underneath him, forming a small hill, so that he could be seen and heard by all. A white dove was seen settling on his shoulder.

Dewi Sant
© Mazur/

The second largest hoard of Roman solidi (gold coins) ever found in Britain!

The discovery of the hoard was made by a metal-detectorist near to St Albans, Hertfordshire, and reported to his local Finds Liaison Officer. In October 2012 the findspot was excavated by a team of archaeologists from St Albans City and District Museums Service and altogether 159 coins were found.

Scanned Roman coins
Lots and lots of coins!

The coins date to the late 4th to early 5th century AD (after AD 408 regular supplies of Roman coinage to Britain ceased) and were mostly made in the Italian cities of Milan and Ravenna. The coins were issued under the Emperors Gratian, Valentinian II, Theodosius I, Arcadius and Honorius.

The largest hoard of 565 Roman solidi was found at Hoxne in Suffolk in 1992.

Richard Abdy, Curator of Roman Coins as the British Museum said:

This is a hugely exciting find. During the period of the Roman occupation of Britain, coins were usually buried for two reasons; as a religious sacrifice to the Gods, or as a secure store of wealth, with the aim of later recovery. The late date of the coins suggests their burial could have been associated with the difficult separation of Britain from the Roman Empire c. AD 410.

The coins may have been buried for safekeeping because their owners were worried that they might be taken from them during a war or raids, because they were going on a long journey or doing something else that was risky.

Gold solidi were extremely valuable coins and Roman law did not allow them to be spent in everyday marketplace situations. They would have been used for large transactions such as buying land, or goods by the shipload, and were an especially handy source of portable wealth for travellers (kind of like modern day traveller’s cheques). Therefore it is likely that the ancient owners of these coins were very rich, Roman elite, merchants or soldiers receiving bulk pay.

Engineers help archaeologists reveal secrets of Roman coins

The University of Southampton is working with the British Museum to examine buried Roman coins using the latest X-ray imaging technology from the University’s µ-VIS Centre for Computed Tomography.

The equipment used is very powerful and was originally designed to examine engineering parts, such as jet turbine blades. It is being used to examine Roman coins buried in three archaeological artefacts from three UK hoards.

The machine scans inside the object, rotating a full circle whilst taking thousands of 2D images, which are then used to build detailed 3D images.

Scanned Roman coins
Some of the scanned coins

This technique is very useful as it allows the coins to be examined closely without having to remove them from the objects that they are inside or without cleaning the coins first. The archaeologists aren’t being lazy! This method of examining objects is much quicker and cheaper than having to remove each coin carefully from the object, which can take several days. It also means that the coins won’t have to be conserved to help them survive longer. Once an object is removed from the ground (where it has lain undisturbed and protected for hundreds of years), it can start to go off - a bit like removing sandwiches from a fridge! As the coins can stay where they are, this a very useful new method to use. This method has shown inscriptions (writing) and helped identify images of emperors on the faces of the coins, for example, on some of the coins the heads of Claudius II and Tetricus I have been revealed.

The University of Southampton and the owners of the artefacts plan to share the scans with the public, hopefully through future exhibitions and online.

Have a look inside one of the objects!

Famous Finds!

A display case of some of the finds featured in the ITV programme Britain’s Secret Treasures has been created in Room 2 of the British Museum.

Britain's Secret Treasures Display

In the case you can find objects from the Bronze Age, Roman times, Medieval and Post-Medieval times.

There is also a Britain’s Secret Treasures Trail in the British Museum, where you can find even more of the finds that were on TV!

Here’s where to find the famous finds in the Museum:

Vale of York Hoard (on TV 22 July) is on the ground floor in Room 2
Near Lewes Hoard (on TV 22 July) is on the ground floor in Room 2
Tisbury Hoard (on TV 18 July) is on the ground floor in Room 2
Durham Assemblage (on TV 18 July) is on the ground floor in Room 2
Frome Hoard (on TV 19 July) is on the ground floor in Room 2
North West Essex Ring (on TV 20 July) is on the ground floor in Room 2
Silverdale Hoard (on TV 20 July) is on the ground floor in Room 2
Hockley Pendant (on TV 16 July) is on the ground floor in Room 2
Rochester Cufflinks (on TV 17 July) is on the ground floor in Room 2
Staffordshire Moorlands Pan (on TV 22 July) is on the upper floor in Room 49
Ashwell Hoard (on TV 20 July) is on the upper floor in Room 49
Sedgeford Torc (on TV 16 July) is on the upper floor in Room 50
Winchester Hoard (on TV 20 July) is on the upper floor in Room 50
Milton Keynes Hoard (on TV 19 July) is on the upper floor in Room 51
Ringlemere Cup (on TV 22 July) is on the upper floor in Room 51
Anarevitos Stater (on TV 18 July) is on the upper floor in Room 68

Click here to see the official British Museum trail guide.

Have fun exploring!

Archaeology and the Olympics

Kate Sumnall (London FLO) has been working with her colleagues at the Museum of London, delivering The Discover Programme of community archaeology events on behalf of the Olympic Delivery Authority. This included talks on the archaeology of the Olympic Park given by Kieron Tyler (Senior Archaeologist), which Kate supported with finds handling sessions, in each of the five London boroughs which are hosting the Olympics, and also at the Olympic Park site and the Olympic Delivery Authority offices.

The Discover Programme also included a three-week community excavation project in East Hackney Marshes, which is part of the main Olympic Park site. As the ground was heavily contaminated, and therefore unsuitable for an excavation, a ‘Blanket Dig’ was used to illustrate the history of the site for the schools and other groups who visited. The blankets (each with artefacts from a particular period) were stacked in chronological layers to help explain stratigraphy. Other practical activities included finds washing and a mapping exercise. Over the period of the ‘dig’ six schools from each of the five boroughs, as well as community groups and other users of the Marshes, visited the site. Several of the visitors remembered the area during the Second World War and the changes that followed, and so their reminiscences were added to our sessions with the schools.

Castleford Youth Inclusion Project

Amy Downes (South & West Yorkshire FLO) and Dave Weldrake (West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service) joined the Castleford Youth Inclusion Project, which works with children at risk of being excluded from school. As part of the project after-school sessions were provided for the children where they can participate in excavation, handle archaeological objects and play ‘archaeological games’.

Apart from the digging, the most popular activity was drawing an object from a written description and then trying to guess what it was.

"I loved digging up the past and discovering what things were as I found them". Pupil (Redhill Primary School, Airedale, Castleford).

Learning about science through archaeology

Dot Boughton (Lancashire & Cumbria FLO) was invited by Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School to organise archaeological activities for the students (aged 11–14) as part of their ‘Science Week’. Under Dot’s supervision the girls examined a large amount of archaeological finds from Stone Age to the modern period, which they sorted according to what they were made from, e.g. glass, plastic, metal, stone, etc. Then, they were asked to analyse the finds further, such as by metal type and treatments applied to pottery. After, they discussed the properties of the materials, and why some artefacts were made some types, but not others. For the final exercise the students had to organise the finds into a timeline, to demonstrate how the use of different materials changed over time.

What did the Romans do for us?

Rob Collins (North East FLO) met with a class of 7 & 8 year olds at Hunwick Primary School, County Durham, who were learning about the Romans and Binchester Roman fort, which is near their school. Rob spoke to the children about understanding the Romans through the material that they left behind, explaining that this was how archaeologists study the past. The children then examined material from near the Roman fort that had been recovered during a metal-detector survey conducted many years ago, which they used to explain what sort of activities the Romans got up to. Afterward, they created a small museum display for the rest of their school to enjoy.

Events for Families and Adults

Details of upcoming Portable Antiquities Scheme and other fun historical events being held across England and Wales can be found here.

British Museum half term activity: Villas, vines and volcanoes

Monday 27 - Friday 31 May, 11.00–17.00

British Museum
Free, just drop in

Come to the Museum for a week of family activities inspired by Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Help make a mosaic pavement in the Great Court, find out how the fashionable Pompeian lady had her hair done, and learn about food for rich and poor.

Try doing a bit of ancient graffiti and hear Pliny the Younger talk about what he was doing the day Vesuvius erupted.

Click for more information

Photography mystery trails at the British Museum

Saturday 25 May, 11.30–15.30

British Museum Samsung Centre 
Free, booking advised

Phone +44 (0)20 7323 8181
Or visit the ticket Desk in the Great Court

Use a digital camera to explore the Museum's objects, and follow exciting photography trails through the galleries.

Turn your photos into a comic strip to take home.

Age: 5+

Click for more information

Ice Age animation workshop at the British Museum

Sunday 12 May, 11.00–13.00 & 14.00–16.00

British Museum Samsung Centre 
Free, booking advised

Phone +44 (0)20 7323 8181
Or visit the ticket Desk in the Great Court

Use stop-motion software and digital cameras to bring Ice Age animals to life through animation.

Sessions last 120 minutes.

Age: 7+

Click for more information

Reshuffling the deck: card game workshop

Sunday 14 April, 11.00–13.00 & 14.00–16.00

British Museum Samsung Centre 
Free, booking advised

Phone +44 (0)20 7323 8181
Or visit the ticket Desk in the Great Court

Learn about card games from around the world. Then work with a professional games designer to create your own personalised deck of cards to take home.

Sessions last 120 minutes.

Age: 7+

Click for more information

Green screen time machine at the British Museum

Saturday 20 April, 11.30–15.30
British Museum Samsung Centre

Free, limited places
Phone +44 (0)20 7323 8181
Or visit the Ticket Desk in the Great Court

Use a green screen and Photoshop to create a picture of yourself interacting with Museum objects.

Activity takes about 30-40 mins.

Suitable for ages 7+

Click for more information

© The British Museum 2012 | Credits