3.2 The nature of the VASLE 'National dataset'

In summary, the VASLE 'National dataset' comprises 3394 records based on the PAS database (downloaded 3 October 2005) and 5718 records from the EMC (downloaded 23 October 2005). The reason for the higher number of EMC records is not that coins are more frequent finds than other portable antiquities, but instead reflects the fact that the EMC has been established longer and efforts have been made to ensure that it is as comprehensive as possible, incorporating finds published elsewhere regardless of recovery method. It would be interesting to compare the datasets over the same recording period if this information could be established. In the EMC all coins have been identified, at least to denomination, and following cleaning and enhancement 96.6% of the PAS records have some form of identification. Nonetheless, in the analyses that follow the two sources will be kept separate owing to differences in organisation, remit and collection of data.

Over 90% of all records have at least a four-figure grid reference. For the EMC records the locational information is limited to four-figure references, whereas some of the PAS-derived records have 6-, 8- or even 10-figure grid-references. In most cases the national grid references were provided from source but there were a number of records where only the parish name had been entered onto the original database. In these cases grid references were added to the VASLE dataset with the aid of the Ordnance Survey's 'Parish Gazetteer'. This provides four-figure grid references based on parish names, derived from the Ordnance Survey's 1:50,000 Gazetteer. Although the differences in spatial resolution meant that these data could not be used for the identification of individual sites in Section 4, it is adequate for the large-scale resolution used here.

Figure 55 Figure 56 Figure 57 Figure 58
Figure 55: Overall distribution of PAS finds recorded as Early to Middle Saxon c. 500-750
Figure 56: Overall distribution of PAS finds recorded as Middle Saxon: c. 650-850
Figure 57: Overall distribution of PAS finds recorded as Middle to Late Saxon: post-c. 650-c. 1100
Figure 58: Overall distribution of PAS finds recorded as Late Saxon: c. 850-1100

Figures 55-58 show the PAS early medieval records broken down by the four VASLE period divisions. Figure 55 shows those artefacts broadly dated within the Early/Middle Saxon category, but which cross over into the 8th century. The distribution is sparse but is concentrated in Eastern England, following a similar pattern to that followed by known Anglo-Saxon cemeteries. Figure 56 shows finds dated to the Middle Saxon period, c. 650-800 AD. It has similar concentrations to those seen in Figure 55, but is denser, and there are more finds in western central England and across southern England. Figure 57 shows finds that span the Middle and Late Saxon period, c. 700-1000. This distribution includes many of the strap ends, which cannot be more finely dated. It follows the same pattern but now concentrations of finds are also appearing in Wessex and Mercia, in southern and western central England. Finally, Figure 58 shows finds securely dated to the Late Saxon period, c. 850-1100 AD. Wales, the south-west and much of north-western England are still largely blank, but there is a general spread of finds elsewhere, although the concentration in East Anglia, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire is still visible.

Figure 59
Figure 59: Chart showing proportion of PAS early medieval finds categorised by broad period
Figure 60
Figure 60: Chart showing proportion of EMC finds categorised by broad category

Figure 59 demonstrates that 90% of records in the enhanced PAS database are dated to at least a broad sub-period, with the majority either datable to the Middle/Late Saxon or Late Saxon periods. This indicates a flourishing of metal-based portable material culture from around the early 9th century, but it must be stressed that many objects were long-lived, or at least that our chronologies for them are inadequate and lack subtlety. About half of the Middle Saxon finds are pins. Lack of material dating from the Early/Middle Saxon transition does indicate a real shift in material culture around AD 650 or so. This may partly reflect the introduction of new artefact types from that date, but it may also represent a shift from portable antiquities being dominated by cemetery assemblages to an emphasis on settlement-related assemblages. This will be explored further by region in Section 3.3.

Turning to the chronological range of the EMC data, Figure 60 reflects the 'long 8th century'. There is a real boom in coin use with the sceattas predominantly minted in the first half of the 8th century accounting for 2371 finds. In the late 8th and 9th centuries there is a real decline in coinage, even though we see the introduction of the broad flan penny by Offa in c. 765 (Chick 1997, 48-9). Around 65% of the finds from 810-899 are Northumbrian stycas. High levels of sceattas might be due to high numbers being minted compared to later coins, but also they are much smaller than broad flan pennies and perhaps more difficult to find if lost (Hinton 1986). The broad outline fits in with Blackburn's (2003) article on the circulation of coinage, but this is probably unsurprising as both are based on the EMC dataset. It is, nevertheless, important to illustrate the national trend as it is important for Section 3.3 to have a background comparison. The lack of 10th-century coins, for example, does not mean no activity, just few coins lost across the country.

Figure 61
Figure 61: Chart showing proportion of PAS finds categorised by material
Figure 62
Figure 62: Chart showing PAS finds categorised by functional group

Figure 61 demonstrates that the vast majority of material found is of copper alloy (85%). Silver follows a long way behind at only 3.1% of the total, and iron objects account for only 1.2% of reported material. The predominance of copper alloy artefacts is obviously biased by metal-detection, and the fact that most detector users ignore or discard iron objects. Iron objects are found in much greater quantities during excavation and we would expect more iron to have actually been used on settlements (Naylor 2004, 76-80).

Finally, Figure 62 indicates the broad functional group of all objects in the PAS database. Small personal items predominate and work or domestic objects are far less common. Understanding and assessing this bias will be especially important when trying to interpret individual sites in Section 4.


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