2.1.1 The Portable Antiquities Scheme

Discussion around the introduction of the new Treasure Act in 1996, replacing medieval Treasure Trove, brought into focus the large numbers of non-treasure archaeological finds that were being discovered around the country, often by members of the public (Richards and Naylor 2009).

In March 1996, what was then the Department of National Heritage (DNH) (now the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS)) published Portable Antiquities. A discussion document. The aim of this document was to complement the impending Treasure Act, address the issue of non-treasure archaeological finds and to propose solutions for dealing with these. After consultation it was agreed that a scheme for the voluntary recording of all finds was required. As a result, in December 1996, the DNH announced that funding would be provided for two years for a programme of six pilot schemes, starting in September 1997. The project was ultimately overseen by the DCMS and administered by the Museums and Galleries Commission (now Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA)). The pilot schemes were based in museums and archaeology services in Kent, Norfolk, the West Midlands, North Lincolnshire, the North West and Yorkshire. In each place a Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) was appointed to act as a point of contact for finders. Their role was to record finds, provide further information if possible and, providing finds did not qualify as Treasure, to return them to the finder. The six posts and schemes were coordinated by a further post that was based at, and funded by, the British Museum. Some areas, such as Norfolk, had already developed good relationships with metal detector users; other areas, such as the North West, did not have systems in place for recording such finds.

Initially finds were recorded using either the host organisations' existing systems or systems unique to that organisation, but it was recognised that a standardised, computerised system for recording finds was needed. An online national database was launched in 1999 to enable wider access to the information collated by the scheme. During the first year of the pilot scheme, over 13,500 objects were recorded. The scheme was very successful, but further funding was needed to extend it nationally. Bids were successfully put forward to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to fund five more FLO posts, commencing in January 1999. The five new FLO posts were based in museums and archaeology services in Dorset & Somerset (one post covering two counties), Hampshire, Northamptonshire, Suffolk and Wales. Shortly after this, a further application was made to the HLF to provide comprehensive coverage of the whole of England and Wales, and this was eventually put in place from April 2003, bringing about the scheme as it exists today. The full scheme comprises a network of 36 FLOs, between them covering each county in England and the whole of Wales, plus five specialist finds advisers and management and systems support. Since 2006 the PAS has been funded by DCMS, via the MLA, with local partner contributions; the current period of funding ends on 31 March 2010. The Scheme itself is managed by the British Museum on behalf of the MLA. Also in April 2006, the Portable Antiquities Scheme central unit, together with staff that administer the Treasure Act 1996, became an official department within the British Museum, the Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure.


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Last updated: Tues Apr 21 2009