Blog: Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS Cymru): Archaeology

Discovering Ancient Greek coins with Eirini

Eirini Anagnostou, Alice Pattillo, 16 March 2018

Hi, Eirini here – I am a student intern in the Archaeology and Numismatics department at NMW, Cardiff. I’ve been taking a look at the museum’s extensive coin collection and will be creating a series of blogs on each of them.

Today I am looking at ancient coins from my home country of Greece. The collection of Greek coinage dates back to over 2000 years ago, but the designs are in great condition. They are all made of silver or gold and we can see the development of currency through them – beginning with rough coins that look like ingots to detailed chunky coins featuring Emperors faces, some from Macedonia and Byzantium as well as famous leaders like Alexander the Great.

I’ve picked my two favourite coins from the collection:

Alexander the Great, Macedonian Drachma

4 Drachum from Pella, Macedonia (dating to 315BC) features Alexander wearing a lion skin, the symbol of Greek hero Hercules, on the front with Alexander’s name inscribed on the back next to an image of Zeus. This design was mimicked by Emperors following Alexander’s death.

I like that this coin is in such good condition. We can see the details of Alexander’s face – it’s impressive considering the tools they had! You can read the inscription clearly despite how old it is.

Byzantine Empress Theodora, Constantinople Nomisma

 A gold tetarteron dating from the reign of Theodora (AD 1055-1056) featuring a portrait of Theodora holding a sceptre and orb, on the other side is a depiction of Jesus Christ. The same iconography of Jesus was used on other Byzantine emperors’ coins, but with their own portraits in place of Theodora’s.

I like how this coin is also in great condition, however, the artwork is much simpler on Byzantine coins with less intricate detailing.

Next week, I will be looking at some Roman coins - a common metal detectorist find in Wales. Greek coins, unfortunately, aren't found in Wales as Greece never invaded the British Isles! Remember to always report any findings to the Portable Antiquities Scheme to allow us to keep learning from the past.

Medieval goings on at Wrexham Museum!

Alice Pattillo, Tom Price, Leon Thomas, 7 March 2018

Wrexham Museum is currently hosting their Buried in the Borderlands community archaeology project, a project based around a hoard of Medieval silver and gold coins and a stunning sapphire and gold ring discovered by metal detectorists in Bronington.

Thomas and Leon are students working hard on the Bronington Hoard project at Wrexham Museum, learning about the value of the coins and archaeology. Read more about them here.

The duo have been keeping us updated of their work experience progress. Leon has been working on an information booklet about the hoard while Tom has been focused on making a craft session for the children who come to the museum.

“I’ve been looking into some ways to make coins out of clay or foam board and some paint. I’ve also been looking at ways to be able to print the patterns on the coins onto the craft coins,” explains Tom. All their effort has been paying off, as the boys are getting involved with events this Easter holiday time.

“We’ve recently decided what we’ll be doing in our craft session during the Easter holidays. We’ll be making coins! We’ll be introducing families to the hoard and get them to make their favourite coin out of clay. The clay and metallic paint we’ve ordered arrived this week! We look forward to seeing some of you at our ‘Make & Take’ craft session at the museum on Tuesday, April 3rd, 10.30am – 12.30pm.”

Leon explains that they are also excited to hosting a visit from History Matters, a 15th century re-enactment group who are visiting Wrexham Musuem on May 30th. “They’ll be showing us and our visitors all about everyday life when the hoard was buried,” explains Leon. “We’re looking forward to learning about what people and ate. It’d be great to see you there! You might even spot us in period dress.”

Meanwhile, Leon has been working on an information booklet for visitors for when the hoard actually goes on display at the museum in March. “It’s more difficult than I first thought!” he admits, “trying to write enough information and make it interesting without being too dull or boring. I’m getting great help from the museum staff though. My booklet will be translated, designed and printed so I’m looking forward to getting all the information written to share with you.”

Click here for a full list of events being held at Wrexham Museum

The Buried in the Borderlands Project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund via the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project.

Meet our student intern: Eirini!

Alice Pattillo, 23 February 2018

As we are sure you are aware, there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes at the National Museum of Wales, including research, conservation and work experience. This week is Student Volunteering Week and in honor of this, we have taken the time to find out a little bit more about one of our interns, Eirini...


Profile

Name: Eirini Anagnostou

Job title/ Role: Intern

Department: History and Archaeology, National Museum Cardiff


Where you are you from?

Greece

What are you studying?

I am a student of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, studying Archaeology and History of Art

Why did you choose to study Archaeology and History of Art?

I've been interested in Art since high school, particularly Contemporary but also Renaissance and Byzantine art and I am also interested in cultural history and civilisations.

What are you doing here?

Erasmus+ placement programme, working as an intern updating the Portable Antiquities Scheme Cymru database – I’ve worked here for 2 months so far!

What are your main duties?

Using the Photoshop programme and processing images of artefacts found by mainly metal detectorists to go on the PAS database.

Next week I will be doing some photography, and working on developing stories on a collection of Ancient Greek coins. I am also hoping to have input into the development of an exhibition concept.

Why did you come to Cardiff?

I visited Cardiff three years ago and I liked the city. I chose the National Museum because it is one of the biggest museums in the UK. I think it’s a good experience for my personal development and future aspirations.

Are you enjoying your time in Cardiff?

Yes, Cardiff is a lovely city with friendly people. There are many things to do and a beautiful castle!

What have you enjoyed the most about working at NMW?

The working environment here is very friendly and helpful. I’ve learnt a lot and I’ve had the opportunity to see the galleries – I was amazed at the extensive collection of Impressionist paintings!

Have you seen anything that’s not currently on display that particularly interested you?

I’ve never seen so many artefacts before – I’ve never seen bones and prehistoric artefacts like those collected in the museum’s stores, and I enjoyed having the opportunity to see them.

What do you hope to learn from this experience?

I hope to learn how a museum works because I’d like to do a Masters in Museum Studies and possibly become a curator. I am still deciding where to study for my Masters degree. I also am enjoying experiencing living abroad and I hope to continue travelling for a couple more years.

To see more content related to the Portable Antiquites Scheme and the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project, a project currently working with PAS and local metal detectorists and communities to record all archaeological findings, click here.

Bronze Age discovery dishes the dirt on Swansea's heritage

Alice Pattillo, 2 February 2018

Swansea has a whole host of treasures just lying within its midst, from the Red Lady of Paviland to the 4200 year old flint dagger that formed the basis for Saving Treasures; Telling Stories first Community Archaeology project, ‘The Lost Treasures of Swansea Bay’. With the rip roaring tides, miles of beaches and hidden caves waiting to be discovered, you’d expect the sea (for which the city is named) to occasionally stir up something significant; but what about an unassuming Welsh livestock farm? Doesn’t sound like the setting for a major archaeological discovery, does it? Suprisingly, that’s exactly where local man, Geoff Archer, picked up one half of a Middle Bronze Age copper-alloy palstave axe mould dating somewhere between 1400-1200 BC.

It was over two decades ago when Geoff first picked up a metal detector, having first taken it up as a hobby after he got married. But it wasn’t until he retired last year that he was able to really get out into the field, and armed with a pair of wellies and a brand spanking new detector, he decided to venture to one of his old jaunts – a farm not far from his home.

“Over the last few nights I’d been thinking about going to the farm and something was telling me to go to the right hand side of it, just to walk the fields,” he explains, “so that’s what I did.” After traipsing around in the mud for a few hours, Geoff stumbled upon a patch of uneven terrace he couldn’t help but investigate.

Unearthing History

“I got to the lumpy, bumpy parts, had a couple of signals – nothing much.” But then Geoff had another signal, “a cracking signal” and realised it was time to dig around in the dirt to find out what it was. Figuring it would just be another case of random odds and sods, or a coke bottle lid (they find an abundance of litter!) he was surprised to hear a clunk.

“I hit this bloomin’ great big stone, so I dug around it, lifted up a clod of earth” and underneath yet another stone he noticed something interesting inside the muddy cave, something not made of rock. “What the heck’s that?” he thought, picking up the oddity with care. 

“I pulled it out and on the back end of the mould there’s, like, ribs.” This prompted Geoff to recall a discovery he made about 15 years ago, when he wasn’t so rehearsed in Bronze Age metalwork.

“Going back, must be about 15 years ago, I found an item - I didn’t know what it was. I wasn’t experienced enough then. So this item, I took it home and I put it in the garage, as most detectorists do!” He had a feeling it was important but wasn’t sure why.

After a few years of picking the item up off his work bench and trying to decipher its meaning, Geoff decided to take it up to the kitchen and do some research. “So I started buying books to research Roman, believe it or not, alright? So, I bought this book and I was looking through it. I got to the part for the Stone Age, read that. Then I got to the Bronze Age, and I turned a couple of pages and there was the item I’d found! Bronze Age Axe Head. My jaw just dropped, right? And the Bronze Age Axe Head had ribs on the outside.”

Devastatingly, Geoff has misplaced the axe head, which he is now, more than ever, desperate to locate – and even more upsetting still, it’s the same type of axe as the mould he discovered 15 years later would have been built to make. “It’s what they call a loop, I think it’s got two loops on this one, each side, where they used to put, if you can imagine, the Bronze Age axe head. It’s flat, but this part at the back, its round and they put it over the wood and then they loop it, they tie it onto the wood to secure it.”

Monumental findings

When Geoff uncovered the mould, he immediately realised its importance thanks to his previous finding – but he still wasn’t entirely certain of what it was he’d discovered. “On the inside of the mould, there’s like a round piece, like in the middle part. I honestly thought at that time that it was a bit off a tractor, because it was so… the engineering of it, the precision engineering of it! But in the back of my mind I was thinking it can’t be off a tractor because it’s got these ribs at the back from this Bronze Age axe that I found.”

After digging out some modelling clay and experimenting, he came to the realisation that what he’d found was an axe head mould. Geoff phoned up one of his buddies at Swansea Metal Detectorist Club for a second opinion and after a positive diagnosis by them both, he took it along to a club meeting.

“As it so happened, it was our ‘Find of the Month’ meeting!” Geoff explains. “So I won find of the month for the artefact and Steve, our Finds Liaison Officer, said ‘you’d better show this to someone in Cardiff because they are going to be interested.’ So, photographs were sent to Cardiff [National Museum of Wales] and they wanted to see it. I went with Steve to Cardiff and the mould’s been there ever since!”

Mark Lodwick, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) Cymru Co-Ordinator at The National Museum of Wales in Cardiff confirmed Geoff’s identification and has recorded the item so it can be used in further research and study.

Under the Treasure Act, the mould isn’t classed as ‘treasure’, so why is it so special? “It’s the only one that’s been found in South West Wales,” Geoff enthuses, “and it’s the second one that’s been found in Wales. The other one was found in a hoard of axes in Bangor in the 1950’s, so this is the first one that’s been found since then!”

Preserving the past

Geoff is in utter disbelief that he was the one to stumble across the important artefact, which has been conserved at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, but, eventually he’d like it to end up back home at Swansea Museum.

Having reported the axe mould to the museum, Geoff sees this as an important part of his role as a treasure hunter. Letting other people view the item, he says, “gives other people a chance to understand about their locality, of what’s been going on.”

“I think it opens up a new chapter in [Swansea’s history]. There’s a bit of history regarding the Bronze Age but to find something like an axe making product in Swansea, which has never been found before - it opens up a new chapter of where these people were living and how far were they living on the fields of that farm,” explains Geoff. “That’s my quest now I suppose, is to try and find out – keep walking the fields and I might find the other half, I don’t know.”

With hopes of the axe mould ending up in Swansea Museum, Geoff is keen that people will be interested in viewing his remarkable find. “The more publicity it gets the better!” he says. “The more people who know about this the better as far as I am concerned, because it’s the first one to be found in South West Wales and the second one to ever be found in Wales – so don’t tell me that’s not important.”

To discover more about Swansea’s Bronze Age history and see some fascinating Neolithic archaeological artefacts visit Swansea Museum, entry is free!

Words: Alice Pattillo

Interview: Wrexham’s treasure volunteers

Alice Pattillo, David Burton, Jill Burton, 11 January 2018

Following Wrexham Museum’s recent acquisition of the Bronington Hoard, a collection of 15th century gold and silver coins and a gold and sapphire ring found by local metal detectorists, the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project helped fund the Buried in the Borderlands Community Archaeology Project.

The project, which goes on display in March, focuses on working with and inspiring the local community to investigate and produce creative responses to the historic objects discovered right under their noses.

David and Jill Burton are part of the Maelor heritage society set up by the museum, a group of volunteers who research and help to exhibit the Bronington findings. We caught up with them to talk about the project.

Why were you drawn to the project?

We have enjoyed the opportunity to be involved with the “Buried in the Borderlands" project as volunteers with the Wrexham Museum team. Initially it was curiosity that took us along to the community meeting in the local pub to find out about more about the hoard that had been discovered in a field not far from where we live. This was followed up with meetings at the museum and the exciting chance to examine at close quarters the coins and ring that had been discovered. 

The hoard consists of 52 coins and a gold ring with a sapphire stone, all buried in approximately 1465. The hoard has been dated to a period of history we knew little about, the Wars of the Roses and we were intrigued what effect the conflict had had on our local area. 

What does your voluntary work involve?

Our “homework" between meetings was the opportunity to research into settlement and ways of life in the Maelor area 550 years ago and the politics of the time. Out limited knowledge of old coins, their designs and production, was helped by attending an excellent Numismatics Day at Wrexham Museum with the chance to listen to top quality speakers from the Royal Mint and the Fitzwilliam Museum amongst others.

What’s your favourite aspect of being involved with “Buried in the Borderlands”?

We enjoyed using the information we had discovered to put together a brief for designers of the popup information boards which would accompany displays and were delighted to see the resulting ideas come to fruition.

But I think our favourite part of the project was helping museum staff take a sample of the hoard and the completed information boards “on tour”, to three venues in the area where the hoard had been discovered, a community centre, a school hall and a heritage centre. At all three places we were met with interest and enthusiasm by visitors of all ages.

We loved having the time to chat, to explain and to listen to theories on why our visitors thought the hoard had been buried. We met 387 people on these days, some were local historians, some metal detectorists, some local residents and farmers but we especially enjoyed talking to the children who loved seeing “real treasure” and had the most imaginative theories as to its origins.

What does the future hold for the project?

We look forward to the next stage in the New Year when we can help with ideas for the designs for the permanent exhibition of the Bronington Hoard in Wrexham Museum, and of course the grand opening when for the first time we will see our local hoard all displayed together for everyone to appreciate and enjoy.

Interested in getting involved? Contact Wrexham Museum directly to find out more.

2019 - United Nations international year of the periodic table of chemical elements

Tom Cotterell and Jennifer Protheroe-Jones, 14 January 2019

In recognition of this Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales will be running a series of monthly blogs, each one covering a different chemical element and its significance to Wales. Look out for these throughout the year on our website.

To start off our series of blogs, for January we have silver.

Silver (chemical symbol – Ag), atomic number 47, is one of the original seven metals of alchemy and was represented by the symbol of a crescent moon. Silver is a precious metal, but it has never been as valuable as gold.

In Wales, silver has played an important role in the history of Wales, but this is often forgotten. In the northernmost part of Ceredigion (the old county of Cardiganshire) near to the village of Goginan lie a number of disused mines which were some of the richest silver producers in the history of the British Isles. The Romans almost certainly had a part to play in the discovery of the metal-rich mineral veins, but it was Queen Elizabeth I who oversaw their development as silver mines.

It is reported that the first rich discovery of silver was made at Cwmsymlog (sometimes written as Cum sum luck in historical records) mine in 1583 by Thomas Smythe, Chief Customs Officer for the Port of London. It is much more likely that it was discovered by Ulrich Frosse, a German mining engineer experienced in silver mining who visited the mine at about the same time and advised Smythe. During the reign of Elizabeth I it is estimated that 4 tons of silver was produced from the Cardiganshire mines.

King James I and King Charles I both made handsome profits from the mines (producing 7 and 100 tons of silver respectively), so much so that in 1638 Charles I decided to establish a mint nearby at Aberystwyth Castle. Its success ultimately led to its destruction by Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War in 1646.

Amgueddfa Cymru holds examples of the many silver coins minted at Aberystwyth. Their characteristic feature is the three feathers on both sides of the coin. The addition of a small open book at the top signifies that the silver was produced by Thomas Bushell from the Cardiganshire mines on behalf of the Company of Mines Royal.

Maps and mine plans produced to market the silver mines to investors are some of the earliest to have been made in Britain. The Library at AC-NMW holds several versions of William Waller’s maps produced for the Company of Mine Adventurers in 1693 and 1704 as well as Sir John Pettus’ Fodinae Regales published in 1670.

One of the mines, Bwlch-yr-eskir-hir [Esgair Hir], was much hyped as the Welsh Potosi and from the silver was produced a silver ewer inscribed ‘The Mines of Bwlch-yr-Eskir-hir’, c.1692. The mine was, however, a failure. The quantity of silver produced never lived up to expectations, but this was more to do with the geology than mining methods. It is perhaps better known as the site involved in a legal case against the Crown’s control over precious metals. The case, brought by the landowner Sir Carbery Pryse in 1693, ended the tyranny of the Mines Royal.

Productive silver mining continued in north Cardiganshire, firstly, under the Company of Mine Adventurers and then through the Industrial Revolution by a number of private companies. Total silver production within this part of Wales exceeded 150 tons of silver metal.

Remarkably, it took until the 1980s for geologists to identify the mineral responsible for the high concentrations of silver in the small area of Wales. It is tetrahedrite – a copper, zinc, iron, antimony sulphide mineral - within which silver can replace some of the copper, zinc and iron. At Esgair Hir mine tetrahedrite has been recorded as containing up to 18 wt. % silver. Important ore specimens used during the identification of this mineral are preserved in our geological collections at the Museum.

Naturally occurring silver metal – known as native silver – does not occur in visible concentrations in any of the Welsh mines, but the Museum holds some of the world’s finest examples in its mineral collection. The specimens, from the Kongsberg mine in Norway, are exceptional in their quality and were acquired during the 1980s as part of the R. J. King collection.

Behind the scenes with Brecon’s metal detectorists

Alice Pattillo, 23 May 2018

The National Museum Cardiff was happy to host a behind the scenes tour to Brecon Detectorists, a group of keen treasure hunters who jumped at the opportunity to delve into the Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales archives.

David Hingley set up Brecon Metal Detecting club in 2011 and is enthusiastic about promoting responsible metal detecting to its members. “Everyone who comes through that door has a condition of membership – everything over a certain age has got to be registered for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, I insist upon it,” David explains. “We’re a small club, we’ve basically capped ourselves at 10. At the moment we’re 9, we’ve had a new guy just started, the big fella, Tom.”

And newcomer, Tom Haines, is no stranger to historical finds. Even before joining the club, he shared David’s passion for responsible detecting. While out walking his dog one day last year, Tom discovered a Bronze Age knife; which he reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme so it could be properly excavated.

“By reporting it, archaeologists might want to dig it, and that ended up being the case,” he recalls. “I could have taken it home, plonked it in my own collection and no one would have learnt anything from it and it would have just crumbled away. It’s being properly preserved and looked after and archaeologists can learn a lot from it.”

The knife was just the tip of the iceberg, however, and his discovery led archaeologists to unearth a Bronze Age burial site, complete with cremated human remains. “They found a bronze age pin in there so it was a good thing that I didn’t disturb that!” The knife and pin, as well as the urn in which they (and charred bone) were discovered is currently pending through the treasure process. The hoard will likely be acquired by Brecon Museum thanks to the Saving Treasures* project.

It’s this interest in preserving archaeological artefacts that brought the club to the museum – to discover just how important their finds can be to museum researchers, conservationists and of course, archaeologists and historians.

The club’s tour kick started in the stores with Portable Antiquities Scheme Wales Liaison Officer, Mark Lodwick, where they were able to view and handle some fascinating Bronze Age axe heads. Among them was a ribbed socketed axe head found in Llancarfan, Vale of Glamorgan back in 2013 that was curiously stuffed with another, bent axe head and (seemingly) ritualistically buried.

From the stores, the group moved onto the conservation labs. Conservationists Louise Mumford and Owen Lazzari were on hand to answer any queries they may have when it comes to storing their non-treasure finds and show the club some exciting pieces they are currently working on. One of the most impressive pieces was a Viking period sword from Hawarden, which had been wrapped in textile and showed traces of a horn grip – all of which had been preserved by the rust formed on the sword! When x-rayed, the amount of original metal sword that had been left was minimal, so if the rust had been removed, Louise would not have been able to find the horn and textile traces and the sword would have been indistinguishable. Luckily, with careful excavation the sword could be professionally conserved and the horn and textile discovered – these elements could easily have had all traces of removed if proper procedure was not followed.

Another fascinating find in the conservation labs was a late Iron Age or Romano-British tankard, found as part of a hoard at Langstone that was still mostly in-tact, the wood having been preserved – a very delicate piece indeed!

The club were then able to see artefacts come to life in the art department, with resident artist Tony Daley.

David Hingley believes the visit to the museum was very helpful for both himself and his members: “I can understand the need for detectorists to be instructed in how to handle and store artefacts, and that more literature should be made available.” He explained that he learnt a lot and this new information can be put into immediate practise within in the club. David already keeps his own extensive coin collection (all of which have been processed and recorded by Mark Lodwick at AC-NMW) in acid free paper envelopes – essential for preventing further metal corrosion!

 “All the clubs try to instigate in all their members that you’ve got to detect responsibly. You’ve got to have permission and you’ve got to have the right gear. If you dig a hole in someone’s field – you’ve got to look at it from your own perspective - What would you say to someone if they came into your back garden and dug a hole in your lawn and then left it without filling it? You’d go mad, wouldn’t you?”  But this isn’t the only aspect of responsible detecting and David is keen to promote the other obligations detecting requires, such as the preservation of the objects themselves, “I am continually preaching to our members!”

David feels that more metal detectorists could benefit from taking the time to learn about the role of museums and conservation in particular. “In the field you watch detectorists kick open clods to see what’s in it - they do not seem to understand that it could contain a very fragile artefact a couple of hundred years old; and they break it or they find equally fragile artefacts and put them in pockets and not containers.”

*Saving Treasures; Telling Stories is helping museums in Wales to acquire the important finds discovered by metal detectorists like David, Tom and their club members. For more information on the project, click here.

Student work placement: A week of archaeological journalism

Michelle Gaduzo, Alisha Davies, 11 May 2018

Hello, Michelle and Alisha here – we are third year journalism students from the University of South Wales.

We are at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, on a one-week work placement with Saving Treasures; Telling Stories. We thought it would be interesting to study a topic completely unknown to us for our work experience, to broaden our understanding of history and how it affects us.

To begin our week, we were introduced to several museum professionals in the Archaeology department and had the opportunity to learn about the day to day running of museums and see all the work that goes on behind the scenes!  

Before working at the museum, we thought that treasure was what we’d seen in the movies - glittering chests of gold coins and shiny jewels! But when we were shown the stores in the cellar, we realised that not all artefacts are pretty to look at and many items declared treasure are of higher historical value than financial reward.

We were able to see the Conservation department, where they work to restore and carefully conserve items for the museum collections. This includes archaeological artefacts, but also pieces from the department of natural history.

After our initial exploration of the museum, our task for the week was to produce an article investigating how museums are funded and how beneficial donating archaeological finds can be to museum collections. In order to create the article, we were set a number of tasks, this included carrying out several over the phone interviews with museum curators from various museums across Wales. With plenty of research, we finally got down to business and wrote the feature, which will hopefully be published very soon!

We have really enjoyed our week in the museum, learning new things. We will miss our new friends – Alice and Rhianydd, who have been really kind and attentive during our placement. We look forward to coming back to visit and seeing new items being declared treasure.

For more information about the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project, in association with the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Portable Antiquites Scheme in Wales, click here.

Meet our student intern: Eirini!

Alice Pattillo, 23 February 2018

As we are sure you are aware, there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes at the National Museum of Wales, including research, conservation and work experience. This week is Student Volunteering Week and in honor of this, we have taken the time to find out a little bit more about one of our interns, Eirini...


Profile

Name: Eirini Anagnostou

Job title/ Role: Intern

Department: History and Archaeology, National Museum Cardiff


Where you are you from?

Greece

What are you studying?

I am a student of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, studying Archaeology and History of Art

Why did you choose to study Archaeology and History of Art?

I've been interested in Art since high school, particularly Contemporary but also Renaissance and Byzantine art and I am also interested in cultural history and civilisations.

What are you doing here?

Erasmus+ placement programme, working as an intern updating the Portable Antiquities Scheme Cymru database – I’ve worked here for 2 months so far!

What are your main duties?

Using the Photoshop programme and processing images of artefacts found by mainly metal detectorists to go on the PAS database.

Next week I will be doing some photography, and working on developing stories on a collection of Ancient Greek coins. I am also hoping to have input into the development of an exhibition concept.

Why did you come to Cardiff?

I visited Cardiff three years ago and I liked the city. I chose the National Museum because it is one of the biggest museums in the UK. I think it’s a good experience for my personal development and future aspirations.

Are you enjoying your time in Cardiff?

Yes, Cardiff is a lovely city with friendly people. There are many things to do and a beautiful castle!

What have you enjoyed the most about working at NMW?

The working environment here is very friendly and helpful. I’ve learnt a lot and I’ve had the opportunity to see the galleries – I was amazed at the extensive collection of Impressionist paintings!

Have you seen anything that’s not currently on display that particularly interested you?

I’ve never seen so many artefacts before – I’ve never seen bones and prehistoric artefacts like those collected in the museum’s stores, and I enjoyed having the opportunity to see them.

What do you hope to learn from this experience?

I hope to learn how a museum works because I’d like to do a Masters in Museum Studies and possibly become a curator. I am still deciding where to study for my Masters degree. I also am enjoying experiencing living abroad and I hope to continue travelling for a couple more years.

To see more content related to the Portable Antiquites Scheme and the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project, a project currently working with PAS and local metal detectorists and communities to record all archaeological findings, click here.

Bronze Age discovery dishes the dirt on Swansea's heritage

Alice Pattillo, 2 February 2018

Swansea has a whole host of treasures just lying within its midst, from the Red Lady of Paviland to the 4200 year old flint dagger that formed the basis for Saving Treasures; Telling Stories first Community Archaeology project, ‘The Lost Treasures of Swansea Bay’. With the rip roaring tides, miles of beaches and hidden caves waiting to be discovered, you’d expect the sea (for which the city is named) to occasionally stir up something significant; but what about an unassuming Welsh livestock farm? Doesn’t sound like the setting for a major archaeological discovery, does it? Suprisingly, that’s exactly where local man, Geoff Archer, picked up one half of a Middle Bronze Age copper-alloy palstave axe mould dating somewhere between 1400-1200 BC.

It was over two decades ago when Geoff first picked up a metal detector, having first taken it up as a hobby after he got married. But it wasn’t until he retired last year that he was able to really get out into the field, and armed with a pair of wellies and a brand spanking new detector, he decided to venture to one of his old jaunts – a farm not far from his home.

“Over the last few nights I’d been thinking about going to the farm and something was telling me to go to the right hand side of it, just to walk the fields,” he explains, “so that’s what I did.” After traipsing around in the mud for a few hours, Geoff stumbled upon a patch of uneven terrace he couldn’t help but investigate.

Unearthing History

“I got to the lumpy, bumpy parts, had a couple of signals – nothing much.” But then Geoff had another signal, “a cracking signal” and realised it was time to dig around in the dirt to find out what it was. Figuring it would just be another case of random odds and sods, or a coke bottle lid (they find an abundance of litter!) he was surprised to hear a clunk.

“I hit this bloomin’ great big stone, so I dug around it, lifted up a clod of earth” and underneath yet another stone he noticed something interesting inside the muddy cave, something not made of rock. “What the heck’s that?” he thought, picking up the oddity with care. 

“I pulled it out and on the back end of the mould there’s, like, ribs.” This prompted Geoff to recall a discovery he made about 15 years ago, when he wasn’t so rehearsed in Bronze Age metalwork.

“Going back, must be about 15 years ago, I found an item - I didn’t know what it was. I wasn’t experienced enough then. So this item, I took it home and I put it in the garage, as most detectorists do!” He had a feeling it was important but wasn’t sure why.

After a few years of picking the item up off his work bench and trying to decipher its meaning, Geoff decided to take it up to the kitchen and do some research. “So I started buying books to research Roman, believe it or not, alright? So, I bought this book and I was looking through it. I got to the part for the Stone Age, read that. Then I got to the Bronze Age, and I turned a couple of pages and there was the item I’d found! Bronze Age Axe Head. My jaw just dropped, right? And the Bronze Age Axe Head had ribs on the outside.”

Devastatingly, Geoff has misplaced the axe head, which he is now, more than ever, desperate to locate – and even more upsetting still, it’s the same type of axe as the mould he discovered 15 years later would have been built to make. “It’s what they call a loop, I think it’s got two loops on this one, each side, where they used to put, if you can imagine, the Bronze Age axe head. It’s flat, but this part at the back, its round and they put it over the wood and then they loop it, they tie it onto the wood to secure it.”

Monumental findings

When Geoff uncovered the mould, he immediately realised its importance thanks to his previous finding – but he still wasn’t entirely certain of what it was he’d discovered. “On the inside of the mould, there’s like a round piece, like in the middle part. I honestly thought at that time that it was a bit off a tractor, because it was so… the engineering of it, the precision engineering of it! But in the back of my mind I was thinking it can’t be off a tractor because it’s got these ribs at the back from this Bronze Age axe that I found.”

After digging out some modelling clay and experimenting, he came to the realisation that what he’d found was an axe head mould. Geoff phoned up one of his buddies at Swansea Metal Detectorist Club for a second opinion and after a positive diagnosis by them both, he took it along to a club meeting.

“As it so happened, it was our ‘Find of the Month’ meeting!” Geoff explains. “So I won find of the month for the artefact and Steve, our Finds Liaison Officer, said ‘you’d better show this to someone in Cardiff because they are going to be interested.’ So, photographs were sent to Cardiff [National Museum of Wales] and they wanted to see it. I went with Steve to Cardiff and the mould’s been there ever since!”

Mark Lodwick, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) Cymru Co-Ordinator at The National Museum of Wales in Cardiff confirmed Geoff’s identification and has recorded the item so it can be used in further research and study.

Under the Treasure Act, the mould isn’t classed as ‘treasure’, so why is it so special? “It’s the only one that’s been found in South West Wales,” Geoff enthuses, “and it’s the second one that’s been found in Wales. The other one was found in a hoard of axes in Bangor in the 1950’s, so this is the first one that’s been found since then!”

Preserving the past

Geoff is in utter disbelief that he was the one to stumble across the important artefact, which has been conserved at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, but, eventually he’d like it to end up back home at Swansea Museum.

Having reported the axe mould to the museum, Geoff sees this as an important part of his role as a treasure hunter. Letting other people view the item, he says, “gives other people a chance to understand about their locality, of what’s been going on.”

“I think it opens up a new chapter in [Swansea’s history]. There’s a bit of history regarding the Bronze Age but to find something like an axe making product in Swansea, which has never been found before - it opens up a new chapter of where these people were living and how far were they living on the fields of that farm,” explains Geoff. “That’s my quest now I suppose, is to try and find out – keep walking the fields and I might find the other half, I don’t know.”

With hopes of the axe mould ending up in Swansea Museum, Geoff is keen that people will be interested in viewing his remarkable find. “The more publicity it gets the better!” he says. “The more people who know about this the better as far as I am concerned, because it’s the first one to be found in South West Wales and the second one to ever be found in Wales – so don’t tell me that’s not important.”

To discover more about Swansea’s Bronze Age history and see some fascinating Neolithic archaeological artefacts visit Swansea Museum, entry is free!

Words: Alice Pattillo