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The Portable Antiquities Program

This database program has been developed for the use of the pilot schemes in the Culture Department's initiative to promote the voluntary recording of archaeological finds found by members of the public (the Portable Antiquities scheme). It has been written in Access 2 and is being developed by Victoria Cassely, the Computer Officer of the British Academy. Mike Heyworth provided invaluable help in the early stages.

The Program is designed to enable finds to be recorded, together with details of their findspots and details of the finders. It incorporates existing standards wherever possible (eg the MDA's Archaeological Objects Thesaurus; the RCHME's Landuse terminology etc.); new standards have been developed where these do not exist. Detailed guidelines have been developed for describing coins, the largest single group of objects being recorded, building on the existing work of numismatists. Consideration is currently being given to the extent to which it will be practicable or appropriate to develop guidelines for describing other classes of artefact. A detailed User Guide has been prepared setting out the standards used; this is available on request.

Although the information is being passed on to SMRs, there was a need to develop a tailor-made program for the use of the scheme because (a) SMRs currently use a wide range of different programs and (a) because there was nothing suitable already in existence. The Program has been developed in close conjunction with RCHME and the finds recording part of the new Exegesis SMR Program has deliberately not been developed in the knowledge that the PA Program was in preparation.

At present there are six pilot schemes in Kent, the West Midlands, North Lincolnshire, North and East Yorkshire, the North West (Liverpool) and Norfolk (the Norfolk pilot scheme is not currently using the Program because of the great number of finds recorded from the county, which occupy three other members of staff in addition to the finds liaison officer). The first working version of the Program was distributed in May and so far the liaison officers have recorded some 10,000 objects, about half of which have been entered on the database. The liaison officers will pass all the data on to the Project Co-ordinator, currently based at the Culture Department, who will maintain a central database. In the longer term, if all SMRs can be linked through a common gateway, along the lines of the work being pioneered by the ADS, there should be no need to maintain a separate portable antiquities database. Although this is probably still some way off, the wider the take-up of the Exegesis Program, the easier the transfer of data to SMRs will become.

Future plans

The Heritage Lottery Fund will announce on 27 October that grants have been given to enable further pilot schemes to be established in early 1999 in Hampshire, Northamptonshire, Somerset and Dorset, Suffolk and Wales, together with an Outreach Officer. These liaison officers will also record finds with the Portable Antiquities Program. Victoria Cassely is currently working on version 2 of the Program which it is hoped to be ready by the end of the year. This will contain a number of significant enhancements, including images. All the data (except for the locational information) will also be made available on the Web and it also is planned to launch the web site by the end of the year. It is also intended in due course to make the Program available to interested museums and archaeological organisations on request. There will be no charge, but it will be expected that any data entered on it will be passed on to the central database.

Roger Bland

October 1998

 

Document last revised: 29 October 1998 by Mike Heyworth

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