The Portable Antiquities Scheme

Lots and lots of archaeological objects have been found in the ground or on top of it by people who aren’t professional archaeologists. Sometimes people have found things by chance while they are out walking their dog or doing the gardening. Sometimes people look specially for objects and use a metal detector to help them or maybe try field walking.

All of these objects are clues about people’s lives in the past that are just as important as the clues that professional archaeologists find.

Because so many objects are found by people, a special project called the Portable Antiquities Scheme was set up to make a note of these objects to help piece together all the clues about the past, and also to tell people more about the objects they have found.

The PAS is made up of friendly archaeologists called Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs). There is at least one FLO for every county in England and Wales. There is probably a FLO at one of your local museums. You can find a list of FLOs at http://finds.org.uk/contacts or by telephoning 020 7323 8618.

The PAS runs a large digital storage place, the Portable Antiquities Scheme Database, to hold all the information and pictures that FLOs collect about the objects that are found. On the database, you can find out about:

  • What the object is
  • What the object looks like
  • What the object is made from
  • What it was used for
  • How big and how heavy it is
  • Where it was found

There might be an object recorded that is from your area, or even something that your family has found.

So, how does it work?

Well, firstly, you need to know a little bit more about what a Finds Liaison Officer does and the objects that they see, so off you go to a day in the life of Tom Brindle, Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) for Northamptonshire.

Anna Marshall with a finder The database is used to record objects that are found and brought by the finder to their local FLO. It is really important that the FLO follows a strict method for recording data from the object. If they don't collect the right information, you would find it incredibly hard to find the record again. It is a bit like following a map - if your directions are incorrect, then you get lost, if they are good, you can find your way there!

So, the FLO needs to describe the object carefully, writing about any curves, nooks and crannies, bumps and lumps, breaks and sharp bits. They also need to weigh, measure and then photograph the object. This creates a lasting record of the object that is entered into the database for everyone to see.

Unless it is Treasure, and if the landowner says it’s ok, you get to keep your object after it has been recorded!

© The British Museum 2012 | Credits