Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Anglo-Saxon Period, Archaeological computing, Archaeology, Artefacts, Blogging Archaeology, Blogging the past, Britain, computing, Culture, Dark Age, Dark Ages, Databases, Digital archaeology, England, Methodology, PAS, Quantitative
Over the last few weeks I have spent a lot of time abusing the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. The PAS, for those who don’t know, is a voluntary reporting scheme covering England and Wales that centrally records portable finds of archaeological interest.
As the popularity of metal detecting has increased over the last few decades the PAS has become an incredibly important source of knowledge. Over 10,000 objects have been studied since the establishment of the scheme in 1997; many of which would have otherwise gone unrecorded.1 The results of these researches are hosted online in a massive database that is free to access by anyone.
If you remove all of the complexities, analyses and unnecessarily complicated words from my thesis it effectively boils down to a series of case studies, each of which looks at a 50km x 50km area of fifth- to eighth-century England. At the centre of these study areas are known Anglo-Saxon settlement sites of particular importance, such as Lyminge in Kent or Cowdery’s Down in Hampshire. The methodology is therefore designed to investigate both the regional context of these elite centres2 and their position within wider socio-economic systems.
Unsurprisingly, the PAS database is incredibly useful for helping me understand the spatial and temporal nature of the archaeology in these study areas. By using the ‘bounding box co-ordinates’ feature of the database and applying a period filter (‘Early Medieval’), I am able to get hundreds of results in a matter of minutes.
For example, in my pilot study of Cowdery’s Down and the northern Hampshire region I performed the following search:
The search results were then exported as a .csv file and opened with Microsoft Excel. Because it is only possible to search under broad periods (in this case, ‘Early Medieval’), the data returned ranged in date from AD 410 to 1066. This obviously presents a problem to a study considering the fifth to eighth centuries. Fortunately, the PAS records a ‘fromdate’ and a ‘todate’ for each object, which allowed me to delete any records with a ‘fromdate’ later than AD 800. This reduced the number finds from 314 to 137.
In the old days you used to have to scour print indexes and rely on word of mouth to get access to finds. I just got detailed electronic information about 137 artefacts, which I can manipulate and analyse in a variety of ways, in 10 minutes.
This is why the PAS is awesome. This is why you should use it if you don’t already.
1 ‘Frequently asked questions and their answers’ [http://finds.org.uk/getinvolved/faq].
2 Such settlements are often known as ‘central places’, but that is a discussion for another time.