The UK’s Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)

Posted on December 5, 2012


When items are discovered in England and Whales, the State has no claim to them unless they are classified as treasure. The Portable Antiquities Scheme (“PAS”) was therefore introduced fifteen years ago as a method for the public to voluntarily record objects found in the ground.

Through the PAS, archaeologists are able to collect information that would otherwise have been lost. According to general secretary of the National Council for Metal Detecting Trevor Austin, “The beauty of the English system is that the information from the finds is preserved . . . In other countries, objects are still being found but they’re not being recorded.” The information gathered by the PAS can be publicly searched via the PAS database, which boasts around 810,000 items. The database — which includes information on the object found, the location where it was found, and other notes of scholarly interest — has quickly become a major academic resource.

The public has made and reported many important finds through the PAS. One item later jointly acquired by several museums was a second-century Staffordshire Moorlands pan. The Roman copper alloy pan contained an inscription of the forts on Hadrian’s Wall. Public finds also include a bronze Roman cavalry helmet and face mask, and a 13th century cast copper alloy monastic seal matrix

The PAS is not without problems, however. UK archeologists are now struggling to cope with the vast number of artifacts being discovered and reported by the public. In the last year alone, citizens reported the finds of nearly 100,000 objects. This is the largest amount found since the PAS was introduced in 1997. According to head of PAS Roger Bland, “The volume of material offered voluntarily for recording is our biggest problem. We are struggling to deal with all the finds that are coming in. We have 39 locally-based finds liaisons officers but we have enough work for twice that number.”

The people behind PAS are currently working towards a solution that will ensure that the database is able to keep up with all the finds that are being reported. Concerning these efforts, Bland stated, “We’re looking at trying to get more capacity into the system… we have a facility on our database where people can record their own finds and we are submitting a bid to the lottery in December to see if we can boost that by bringing in more resources to train people in how to use it and to check the records they enter.”