A Life In Fragments

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Fragments of the PAS

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been ambitiously tackling the online database of the Portable Antiquities Scheme database (aka the PAS). This has involved me extracting information from the database and compiling a catalogue of material relevant to my thesis.


For those of you unfamiliar with it, the PAS is a government-funded programme designed to record archaeological artefacts found from across England and Wales in a variety of circumstances, though a great majority are found by metal-detecting. Objects found are taken to Finds Liaison Officers (or FLOs) based in each county for specialist identification, before being returned to the finder. Over a million objects have now been recorded since its formation in 1997, and it has become a particularly useful, ever-growing database of Bronze Age metalwork (from my perspective anyway!)

PAS collage.jpg

Images courtesy of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

One of the greatest advantages of the PAS is that metalwork is being found in places that have never been investigated, with metal-detectorists scoping out fields and sites across the country. Furthermore, objects that might have been previously discarded or ignored, are frequently identified.

As of the 28th March 2017, over 700 pieces of Bronze Age metalwork have been recorded from across more than 370 findspots within the south west region alone. Though since my cut-off date, more pieces have already been found and added. The PAS data is particularly pertinent to my investigations as many of the pieces recovered are broken and incomplete. Often they represent small pieces of larger objects that might otherwise have been unrecognised. It also means they’re not the prettiest.

Indeterminable fragments.jpg

A fragment of a flat axe from Culmstock, Devon (left) and three fragments of socketed axes from Chickerell, Dorset (right). Images courtesy of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Although it is impossible to handle the vast majority of these objects first hand, it is possible to construct valuable interpretations from the images displayed online, and the descriptions provided by the FLOs. This has resulted in a catalogue some 160 pages long!

In the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a series of blogs for each of my four study counties, highlighting some of the most useful and interesting objects, which range from individual complete finds to large fragmentary hoards. The information garnered from this material has huge implications for how we might interpret Bronze Age communities in this region, and indeed across the country.

Blog posts on Cornwall, DevonDorset and Somerset are now available!

For those of you interested in finding out more about the PAS, or those who just want to browse some of the objects, check out their website and browse their database: www.finds.org.uk.


I’ve been volunteering for the PAS on and off since I was about 17. I’ve met several FLOs and several of them are my friends. They tirelessly record material, not just Bronze Age metalwork, but every kind of object you can possibly think of(!), and somehow always have time to respond to my emails and give me time and assistance. Their work is enabling researchers across the country to further their fields. For that, I want to express my sincere thanks. I must particularly mention Peter Reavill for showing me how to extrapolate huge volumes of data with the click of a button! Peter, you saved me hours of work!!!


  1. […] mentioned in my introductory post that the PAS is particularly good at bringing odd unrecognisable fragments into the research […]


  2. […] the second post in my series on the pieces I’ve been studying from the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. Be sure to […]


  3. […] is the third post in my series on the pieces I’ve been studying from the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. Be sure to check […]


  4. […] is the final post in my series on the pieces I’ve been studying from the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. Be sure to check […]


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I’m Matt, 26 years old, a glutton for academic punishment, a lover of all things Bronze Age, always willing to continue talking even when my friends have lost interest, and never happy unless overwhelming busy. Find out more here and be sure to follow me on Twitter @mgknight24 and Facebook

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