Walking into the office today is an escape from the torrential downpour on this delightful day at the end of July. It’s on days like today that I am thankful that I am no longer a field archaeologist, working on muddy archaeological sites in all manner of weathers. For now I am a Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, a specialist in archaeological artefacts.
I work in the county of Northamptonshire, and there are 36 other people just like me working in the other counties across England and Wales .
It is our job to help people identify objects from the past that they have found and to make sure we get a good record of them so that we can learn more about how people lived hundreds and thousands of years ago.
After taking off my dripping coat I sit down to look at the emails that have arrived since yesterday. One of them is from a man called Tim, confirming that he will come in later to collect some of the artefacts I’ve been working on and will also bring some more artefacts to show me.
Another is from someone who has found what looks like a strange flowerpot and would like to know what it is. When I look at the pictures that have been sent with the email, I realise that it is actually a quern stone – part of a stone mill that was turned by hand to make flour out of grain in ancient times. What is more, after doing a bit of research I find that this example is exceptionally old, and dates back to the Iron Age period!
Now, this is an exciting find and it may even prove to belong to a site where there is more evidence for people living in the Iron Age, over 2000 years ago. I give the finder a quick phone call and arrange to visit the site with him next week to do an investigation (I hope that the summer’s weather will have improved by then!).
The finder is really excited that he has discovered something so interesting and has agreed to let me take some more photographs and some measurements of the quern so that I can add this special artefact to the database of finds we are building up for the country.
After reading my emails I log into the Portable Antiquities Scheme database to record some finds. I have a few objects to finish recording before Tim comes in. Carefully I describe what each object is and take measurements of the size and weight of the finds. There are a few Roman coins in with this batch and with these I note the exact inscription and picture on the front and back. One of the coins is of the Emperor Constans who reigned as Emperor from 337 to 350 AD.
Coin of the Emperor Constans
The front shows the emperor’s head wearing a laureate wreath crown and the back shows two soldiers holding a battle standard and has an inscription in Latin – GLORIA EXERCITVS – which means Glory to the Army. After I’ve recorded the details of the find I type in the National Grid Reference from the map on which Tim showed me where he found the objects when he brought them in. This is very important as it tells us where people were living in the past. I next take a photograph of each find and add this to the record on the database.
By the time Tim comes in I have finished his finds and I return these to him and collect some more. The new batch contains yet more Roman coins, some medieval pottery and some other artefacts which I am unsure about. Often it takes some time researching objects in books before I am happy that I know what they are.
After lunch I drive off to a museum in Oundle, in the far east of the county. I often work in museums on special days when it is advertised that people can pop in to see me with things that they have found.
Today I have a few visitors, most of them with things they have found whilst digging their gardens or out walking the dog. The objects range from fragments of Roman pottery to 20th century coins of George V. One family show me what they think is part of a human skull that they have found in their backyard. Thankfully, when I carefully take the object out of its bag I realise that it is actually a very old fragment from a coconut shell – something that the family are all very relieved about!
Now, off back to Northampton. This is one of the days when I attend one of the county’s metal detector club meetings. There are a number of clubs in the county and most of them meet in the evening once a month. Tonight I am off to the Northampton Detecting Association meeting. At the club the members are keen to show one another their best finds of the last month, and once they have done this most members will lend me their finds so that I can make a record of them. The club meeting finishes with a Roman history themed quiz and then with a raffle. Unfortunately I didn’t win either!