The Finds Research group holds regular conferences, meetings and visits.
On this page you will find a selection of reviews, conference abstracts and details of some of our most recent events. Please do browse for a feel of the range of topics we have covered.
Orkney: 2-4 June 2017
Edwin Wood and Arwen James
The FRG 2017 conference was hosted in Kirkwall, Orkney. Kirkwall is a small city packed with history and dominated by its enormous red sandstone cathedral of St Magnus. The city retains a Scandinavian feel, in its architecture and culture, left over from centuries of Norwegian rule. This was explained on day 1 of the conference, where members of the FRG were treated to a tour of the city by local guide, Rod Richmond. Kirkwall’s sometimes turbulent history was detailed in the layout of its streets, as areas such as the Earl’s Castle, The Bishop’s Palace and the possible location of the old Viking hall were revealed. All the while the skyline was dominated by St Magnus’s looming façade. It was there that we gathered after lunch.
Our guide for the tour of the cathedral was Custodian, Fran Flett Hollinrake. The grand Romanesque interior of the church is reminiscent of that in Durham. Within the walls members were treated to the stories of St Magnus, Earl Rognvald, the Cathedral’s founder, and St Olaf. The highlights included a statue of St Olaf triumphing over his own inner demons (or crabby Olaf as he’s known informally) and the locations of the relics of St Magnus and Rognvald, hidden in two of the vast supporting pillars during the reformation.
The second day of the conference began with a tour of the Orkney Museum stores and a visit to the Museum itself to see the redisplay of the Viking gallery. There are numerous amazing objects on display including the assemblage from the Scar Viking boat burial.
The afternoon saw a series of talks, with Prof. Christopher Morris leading the way with the excavations of the Birsay Bay area. Dr Ingrid Mainland and Paul Johnson on feasting at the Earl’s Bu, Orphir. Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon led us on a pilgrimage following the route of St. Magnus’ coffin after his martyrdom, before Dr Steve Ashby rounded off the day with antler and bone combs of the Norse world. The talks laid a lot of ground work for the following day’s trip out.
With day three the FRG took to the road visiting the Brough of Birsay, Broch of Gurness and the Earl’s Bu, Orphir with its round Byzantine style ruined church. Picnics (with a myriad of different Orcadian cheeses) were held at Gurness in the shadow of the Iron Age Broch and the Neolithic landscape revealed in a whirlwind drive-by tour of the Ness of Brodgar (there were sadly no sightings of Neil Oliver) and Stones of Stenness.
The FRG scratched only the surface of mysterious Orkney, with many more islands to explore. Perhaps future visits may even yield sightings of the islands’ elusive puffins.
Photo © Annemarieke Willemson
FRG members visit to ‘Tunnel: The Archaeology of Crossrail’ at the Museum in Docklands - a late summer ‘trippette’
Nicky Powell with Jackie Keily
On a lovely sunny London afternoon, we found ourselves outside the Museum in Docklands getting ready to take in one of the last days of the exhibition ‘Tunnel: The Archaeology of Crossrail’.
Curated by our very own Jackie Keily, the afternoon began with three papers from MOLA specialists on some of the amazing finds recovered during the Crossrail excavations at Liverpool Street. Rachel Cubitt spoke about the medieval small finds and then Beth Richardson looked at some of the well-preserved leather finds that have been recovered. Michael Marshall talked about the post-medieval ivory and bone working waste, including some of characters who lived on the site of the excavations, the Clitherow family, who led astonishing, slightly dodgy lives as managers of the New Churchyard. They opened a shop on the ground floor of their home and manufactured objects of worked bone, ivory and wood. The foundations of the shop were found and yielded large quantities of worked bone waste.
We then moved into the exhibition area, which was a feast for the eyes with great lighting, posters and an array of finds in accessible well-lit cabinets. The exhibition took us on a tour site by site, from east to west across London, starting with the unexpected find of a later Mesolithic tool-making site in North Woolwich and a Bronze Age walkway at Plumstead. We were all astonished by the finds of woolly mammoth jaw bone and amber from Canary Wharf, close to where the Museum is located.
At Stepney Green, the excavations uncovered the remains of the 15th century moated manor house of King John’s Court, home to the wealthy Fenne family and there were many finds of medieval and post-medieval date on display.
Moving on, we were faced with a cabinet of hipposandals and styli that would gladden the heart of any Romanist, from the site near Liverpool Street Station. A large case of well-preserved late medieval finds reflected what we had heard from Rachel and Beth. In the 16th century the site was part of the New Churchyard and one of the skeletons was displayed, as well as some of the 18th century bone and ivory-working waste. This included the remains of a worked bone telescope which made me wonder how many bone fragments had been left unidentified. Heading further west, I was particularly struck by the display of pottery from the pickle purveyors Crosse and Blackwell. A cistern had been excavated and revealed thousands and thousands of dumped pots, jars and fragments from the old factory in Oxford Street (see review ‘Crosse and Blackwell 1830–1921: a British food manufacturer in London’s West End’ this newsletter).
For further information about the archaeology of the Crossrail project, see: http://www.crossrail.co.uk/sustainability/archaeology/
For a 360 degree view of the exhibition itself, see:
Visit to the Isle of Man: 24-26 April 2015
A big thank you to those who wrote reviews of our recent trip to the Isle of Man - it's good to know that everyone had a lovely time!
Those who were lucky enough to arrive on Thursday were welcomed by and atmosphere of Mediterranean splendour, under blue skies, with temperatures
in the twenties (and wondered why it had been so long since we'd last
visited the island). The weekend kicked off in earnestat the Manx Museum on Saturday morning. In the introductory session, Edmund Southgate, the
Director of Manx National Heritage and a succession of his museum staff and
local experts (including Peter Davey, Andrew Johnson & Sir David Wilson)
made us feel very welcome and set the scene for the rest of our visit.
In the afternoon, we had an opportunity to individually explore the Museum
(during which I was lucky enough to explore the querns in their Ronaldsway
store with Curator Allison Fox and to confirm an apparent absence of Yorkshire-style
beehives and of their decorated Irish counterparts). We then all gathered at
the Tynwald building to hear from the Seneschal how the Parliament acquired
its powers and how it currently discharges them. In the evening, our hosts
laid on a joint reception, where we were joined by many familiar faces from
the Hillforts Study Group, who were also having a weekend visit to the
On Saturday morning Allison Fox organised a guided visit to the museum stores
in Douglas, and then lead us on an afternoon coach trip eastwards to Peel, where we explored the Castle in more inclement conditions (the Hillfort
Study Group reported sleet during their morning inspection of South
Barrule!). We moved onto a brief perambulation around the Tynwald Hill, then
into Andreas church, with its collection of Early Medieval carved stones,
before returning home via the Laxey waterwheels. In transit, our
coach-driver gave us vivid insights into the use of the existing road system
as the motorcycle TT track.
Hands on at Manx national heritage, Douglas
On our final day, we visited Old Kirk Bradden (site of the group photo) and
travelled south to Balladoole, with its Bronze Age and Viking burials. Our
last site was Castletown, where we visited Castle Rushen and Rushen Abbey
(with its excellent tea-room). The coach then dropped us off at Ronaldsway
Airport, where runway extensions had revealed a fascinating Mesolithic
occupational site. From feedback in the airport tea-room, it was obvious
that our attendees were most appreciative of all the efforts which our hosts
and our FRG Co-ordinator, Quita Mould, had made to ensure that our party had such an informative and enjoyable visit.
Quita and Allison put together a diverse and interesting programme for our visit; a good mix of talks, artefact viewing and excursions to places of historical and archaeological interest interspersed with amazing views of the island and the key tourist attractions. The friendly coach driver had lots of anecdotes about places we passed - fairy haunts and homes of the famous, plus the bike manoeuvres needed to negotiate the TT circuit. One of the most striking views of the trip was looking out to sea from Peel Castle, to the west Irish mountains were clearly visible and to the north and north west were the mainland and islands of south- west Scotland. Thoughts of intervisibility came to mind and Viking and other ships crossing the water. That view of other lands, the glittering sea at Castletown and the intricately carved Viking crosses in Andreas and Old Kirk Braddan churches were memories that will always come to mind when I think of the Isle of Man; it was enthralling to be so close to the crosses, their runes, interlaced patterns, mythical beasts and Norse gods, remembering the time when the island had been part of the Scandinavian world.
We crossed two seas to join some thirty other FRG-members for our first and thorough acquaintance with the island. The island seems remote now, but was known to us as a hub in the early Middle Ages and Viking times, a period where our interests meet, and like most others we therefore had the Isle on our wish list for a long time. Over the weekend, we were able to see a lot of Man: wonderful sites like the Peel castle and the Balladoole Viking burial, lots of Manx crosses in picturesque churches, the Manx Museum and Parliament, the landscape with all its yellow gorse - and we happened to see quite a bit of the local pub ‘The Bridge’ as well. The bus driver misread his company and speeded past prehistoric standing stones to slow down in every famous turn of the TT circuit, and, it must be said, near the house where the Bee Gees were born. As true geeks, we loved the fact that the island has not only its own language and culture, but also its own stamps and currency - the Manx one pound notes (!) are our favourite souvenirs of this wonderful weekend. The weather was good when it needed to be, and the company was good at all times. Thank you Quita for organizing this!
Nelleke and Annemarieke
The Finds Research Group Visit To The Cheapside Hoard Exhibition At The Museum Of London
The FRG visit last February to the Cheapside Hoard exhibition, hosted by the Museum of London and organised for us by our very own Jackie Keily, proved to be very popular and was well attended. The program prepared for the group's visit had been well thought out with two lectures to whet the appetite and then to the hoard itself. The whole event was enthralling.
Hazel Forsyth gave the first lecture. Setting out the history of the finding of the hoard as a starter, the talk went into the mineralogy and likely sources of the varied gem stones and precious jewels that make up the hoard and the different techniques and skills used to turn the base material into something exquisite. The lecture had much breadth that looked at the Elizabethan and Jacobean date of the jewels and the likely geographical sources for them. This took us from the workshops of Cheapside to the jungles of South America and Asia with a stop off in Arabia. Fascinating! This was followed by a second lecture given by Catherine Nightingale on the trials and tribulations of conserving such a magnificent collection; the negotiations and agreements that had to be undertaken were touched upon. The condition of the jewels, particularly those enamelled, was dealt with in depth and the treatments that were applied. Concerns over the lighting and display of certain jewels, particularly the pendants and other dangling types of jewel were talked about and the solutions for making the best display possible for the viewer. Wonderful stuff. The discussions held after each lecture proved to be very popular with too many questions for the time allowed.
Finally, with much suppressed excitement the Group made their way down to the depths of the Museum and the exhibition and with all the detail given throughout the two lectures there was much to think about, ponder and debate. We were all issued with a large magnifying glass to enable us to study and enjoy each jewel in turn. The excellent lectures had given much depth to the exhibition so each object viewed had some other detail or back story and the exhibition gallery further enhanced this with portraits of the elite of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, showing fashionable dress that beautifully demonstrated how the various jewel types were worn.
Many thanks to The Museum of London, Hazel Forsyth, Catherine Nightingale and not least Jackie for organising a wonderful day. A day not to be missed, but if you did the book, ‘The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels’* is available and the fascinating history, or as much as is known, is held therein.
Angela and Mark Bain
*Forsyth, Hazel, 2013, The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels, Museum of London £19.95, pb 248pp, most images (including gems) in colour, ISBN 978 1 78130 020 6
The Forgotten Past Conference: Post-Medieval Small Finds And Their Contribution To Our Understanding Of The Past
The Portable Antiquities Scheme and The Finds Research Group
British Museum, London - 21 October 2013
Once given little consideration by most archaeologists, post-medieval material was the ‘stuff machined through’ to get to the ‘interesting layers’ below. However, thanks to changing attitudes amongst archaeologists and also a growing dataset of finds recovered by metal-detectorists and others now being recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, there is increasing awareness of the importance of post-medieval finds for understanding the past. It is this interest, and research into such finds, that was highlighted at this conference.
People who gave papers at this conference were asked to consider the following questions while highlighting their research: Why record post-medieval material, and are there aspects that can be disregarded or selectively studied? What types were once thought of as rare, but are now considered quite common, and does that change how we feel about what we record? What have we discovered that is new, and does this help with future research agendas? Post-medieval finds have greater potential to link objects to specific people or occasions, so does that make certain objects more interesting or important? How does the recording of post-medieval finds advance research?
History by the bucket full: detecting the history of a Lincolnshire parish
Dr Kevin Leahy (Portable Antiquities Scheme)
The village of South Ferriby offers us a remarkable convergence of evidence. Over a period of more than 25 years one metal detector user has concentrated his efforts on this parish, recovering many thousands of objects, ranging in date from the Bronze Age to recent times. He kept everything, producing a remarkable record of life in the parish over the millennia. His work has been supplemented by that of gifted local historian who has been able to trace both events and the growth and decline of the village. Is it possible to reconcile this evidence? Do the finds confirm or confound the historical record? Is this a break-through for the imaginative or a mine-field for the gullible?
Early Post-Medieval Metal Sewing-Thimbles Found in Britain
Brian Read (Independent Small Finds Expert)
Today's presentation is a précis of many years recording and researching early post-medieval (and other periods) metal sewing-thimbles. This data will appear in the present writer's forthcoming book ‘Metal Sewing-Thimbles Found in Britain’. There exists a mind-boggling amount of published material about metal sewing-thimbles, so why write more? While much of this data is reliably solid, some is confusing and or contradictory and frequently inadequate explanation is given to where and how such items were made, information essential to provide a reasonable attribution. Stratified dating for specific types is found in certain archaeological publications, especially Dutch and the late Geoff Egan's. However, for other types accurate attribution is fraught with difficulty or impossible. Why sewing-thimbles and not thimbles? Because using just thimbles the researcher may receive from some helpful museum curator a mass of unrelated material, e.g. concerning thimbles used in rigging and ropework.
The Durham lead cloth seal assemblage: new revelations on the importance of merchants, trade and social hierarchy in the North East of England
Gary Bankhead (Durham University)
Prior to 2009 there was little material evidence of a cloth trade in County Durham during the 15th to 18th centuries, as only two lead cloth seals were recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme as having been discovered in the county. However, during the period 2009-2013 underwater archaeologist Gary Bankhead has recovered 272 lead cloth seals from a submerged river bed in the heart of Durham City. These small lead seals now constitute the largest river assemblage of such material from outside London and represent a major research corpus. Individually stamped with the privy marks of fullers, dyers, weavers or alnagers, it is apparent that these cloth seals are of crucial significance for understanding not only the composition of craft guilds but also the cloth trade in the late medieval and post-medieval period: a unique regional/national resource.
Researching further than the next street or two: initial studies into the circulation of seventeenth century trade tokens
Laura Burnett (Portable Antiquities Scheme)
Seventeenth century traders' tokens have been of interest to many scholars and collectors. Work has generally focussed on identifying the issuers and place of issue, issuers' trades and social position, places of minting and design. Most collections are built up from curated examples which are in general in better condition than those found in the ground. This has impeded research into the circulation of tokens, generally assumed to have been restricted, if not to the 'street or two' in the title quote then to no more than a few miles. The locational information provided by the PAS allows an unprecedented volume of data to be rapidly surveyed, providing a more extensive study of trade token circulation. This paper is a first step in such a study.
Embarrassing Bodies? The PAS's records of medical equipment
Dr Helen Geake (Cambridge University)
The PAS database contains a small but growing number of records related to disease and healing. These include surgical tools, prosthetics, apothecaries' equipment and, most commonly, large syringes. This paper will look at the evidence before going on to examine what it can tell us; something about medicine through the ages, but perhaps more about people's attitudes to their own health and sickness.
Sex, sedition and soldiery: research themes for the long 18th century
Stuart Campbell (National Museums Scotland)
Post-medieval artefacts are undoubtedly the most commonly recovered object from the ploughsoil, and their quantity and ubiquity can often present problems of interpretation to the archaeologist. This paper will examine several thematic categories of personal objects which are linked by unifying themes such as political sentiment or obscenity and suggest how these objects can be linked into a wider consideration of post-medieval popular cultures.
Ian Richardson (British Museum: Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure)
In a presentation to the Society of Antiquaries in 1869 by the Hon. A Dillon, F.S.A, it was noted that the major English treatises on falconry failed to describe, among the other technical terms and language employed in the sport, the object we know as a vervel. Mr Dillon speculated that this was because the vervel was so ubiquitous and its use so well understood that to include it in the treatises was unnecessary, a suggestion which eludes nicely with the theme of this conference, 'The Forgotten Past'. With over 50 vervels recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, most dating to the post-medieval period, a small corpus of information has been accumulated about these items, and it is appropriate to investigate it. This paper will review the main varieties of vervels and will introduce an examination of the potential of these items to illuminate aspects of the practice of falconry in the post-medieval period by looking at the relationship between the people and places named on vervels and the locations where the items were found.
Crown And Heart Buttons
Dr Michael Lewis (British Museum: Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure)
An increasingly common find type reported through the Treasure Act are small silver buttons, embellished with various crown and heart motifs; the first of these was reported in 2001, and now the total of such finds is almost 200. Occasionally these buttons are joined to one another to form cufflinks, intriguing in itself. Some are also stamped with maker's marks, though these are quite simple, presumably made by small workshops. In particular this paper will consider the construction of crown and heart buttons, and the significance of their designs. Also examined will be the possible date of such buttons, based on their form and what can be gleaned from the maker's marks. Finally the distribution of these buttons will be explored, in the hope that this adds some meaning to their use and popularity in the post- medieval period.
Editor’s Note: Please see the enclosed Datasheet 46 for more on this subject.
The conference was very well attended and the papers engendered some lively and enthusiastic debate. We are in debt to Janina Parol and her colleagues at PAS for organising such an enjoyable and successful day for us all, where many old friends had a chance to chat and new friends were made.
The Finds Research Group Revisit Leiden (And Amsterdam)
In March 2013 The Finds Research Group returned to Leiden primarily to view the ‘Medieval Chic’ exhibition, but Annemarieke Willemsen had kindly arranged a whole lot more besides for our delight. The visit was well supported and it was lovely to welcome some new faces to the ranks of the more seasoned ‘FRG trippers’.
The trip had been meticulously organised by Annemarieke and all sorts of treats were packed into the weekend. We enjoyed lectures by Annemarieke on ‘Medieval Chic’, Dr Carol van Driel-Murray on archaeological leather from the Netherlands and Dr Maria Stürzebecher on the decorated belts from the Jewish Erfurt treasure. Then to the exhibition, where a huge variety of metal mounts were displayed along with belts, purses and other items to which they had been attached; I think it unlikely that so many belt fittings will be gathered together in one place again!
On Saturday we travelled to Amsterdam Museum for a guided visit to ‘The Golden Age, Gateway to our World’ exhibition followed, after an exciting tram ride, by a visit to the Archaeological Service of Amsterdam. After Prof. Dr Jerzy Gawronski had given a summary of the recent metro line excavations we were privileged to view a room full of smalls finds that the team had laid out for our inspection, this being a just a tiny selection of the thousands of objects recovered: we are most grateful to them for sacrificing their precious free time to the cause of international small finds research!
Sunday found us all taking coffee (and huge slices of apple pie) at the Zijlpoort before setting off on a walk to the Groenesteeg, a wonderfully atmospheric Leiden cemetery filled with snow drops and blue anemones with green parakeets in the tree tops. Then to see 16th century almshouses, still lived in, with their tiny chapel and single-room accommodation for visitors directly above. After a lunch of pancakes the size of cartwheels we parted to go our separate ways home.
The weather was not too kind to us, but we had a truly wonderful visit – thank you so much Annemarieke.
Page banner image: © Julie Cassidy