Festival of Archaeology 2023

David Howell

Portable Antiquities Scheme Cymru – Engaging Audiences 

In late 2022, the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales (PAS Cymru) established a pioneering engagement role, designed to raise the profile of the scheme and enhance relationships with finders across the country. While PAS has consistently focused on community engagement, the scope of this new role was without precedent and has presented the scheme in Wales with significant opportunities.

Currently Wales has four part-time Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs). FLOs can be reached in Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham, with important recording support provided by Dyfed and Gwynedd Archaeological Trusts in the southwest and northwest of the country. This network gives us a good, but imperfect, reach across Wales; the creation of the PAS Engagement role has allowed for targeted efforts in parts of Wales where access to PAS staff is more challenging. 

Starting in November of 2022, PAS Cymru began contributing to and hosting a series of public-facing engagement activities, focused on strengthening connections with members of the wider community invested in archaeology and heritage. Where possible, these engagements were developed in association with key partners, namely finder communities and local museums. 

As PAS remains a voluntary scheme, we are dependent on the goodwill of our partners, but that goodwill can only begin with an awareness of our existence. PAS Cymru pop-up events have allowed us to significantly enhance visibility, promoting the work it generates, within geographies which have historically been difficult to access. Thanks to Bangor, Carmarthen and Narberth museums, over the last year PAS Cymru has been seen and accessed by finders who would otherwise have to travel significant distances to be able to have face-to-face interactions with FLOs. 

A strong working relationship with museums throughout Wales is critical for the successful recording of archaeological material found outside of a research context. Where cultural heritage institutions have confidence about who to direct finders towards, pathways can be established ensuring everyone invested in their local heritage, knows how and where finds can be reported. During early autumn 2023 and winter 2024, museums in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire will host exhibitions exploring the work of PAS Cymru, creating additional opportunities to embed an awareness of the scheme within local museums and their audiences. 

In additional to the established practice of FLOs attending detecting club meetings, PAS Cymru is also working closely with metal detecting clubs and individuals, inviting finders to attend pop-up events in local museums, and also to contribute towards them. As a consequence, PAS Cymru and detectorists have shown a unified front to wider audiences, strengthening a shared message of best practice in relation to detecting. In the Spring of 2023, PAS Cymru was invited by members of the detecting community to participate in one of their public-facing events in mid-Wales. This was a significant moment for us to share in their collective enthusiasm for the historic environment, while offering reflections on best practice and recording, with an audience who might otherwise never have known about the scheme. 

The engagement role has proven to be very rewarding and has been received with high levels of positivity. Local museums have been enthused by the potential of widening audiences through the presence of PAS Cymru in their own events calendars, while detectorists have been proactive in supporting the engagement scheme in Wales, attending and promoting events, and pushing the narrative of responsible detecting. The potential of these partnerships has only been scratched, and we are looking forward to seeing how these dynamics can grow, to the benefit of our shared archaeological assets, as we move further through the year.  

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