Step inside the Museum of Island History at the Guildhall in Newport and you will discover some of the most fascinating artefacts ever to be uncovered here on the Isle of Wight.
An Anglo Saxon skillet, a medieval seal matrix and a Neothlithic stone axehead are just some of the artefacts which have been dug up in gardens and fields across the Island – along with many ancient coins, some of which fall under the Treasure Act.
The IW is fortunate enough to have its own Finds Liaison Officer, Frank Basford, who is the first port of call once items have been uncovered. Frank is employed by The British Museum and is based above Newport’s Guildhall, where he meets with members of the public and metal detectorists every day, investigating finds of archaeological interest and recording them on The Portable Antiquities Scheme database. Frank photographs and records all finds before returning them to finders. He has an extensive knowledge of archaeological material but can also draw on the expertise of National Finds Advisers and other Finds Liaison Officers.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) is a voluntary programme which has been operating on the Island for the past 15 years. PAS is managed by the British Museum and the National Museum of Wales and has 40 locally based Finds Liaison Officers across the UK.
Frank previously worked as a field officer and illustrator for the Archaeological Service of the IW Council. For 35 years, he was involved in many interesting projects, such as the excavation of a Bronze Age burial mound at New Barn Down. There, a member of the team discovered pots filled with the remains of the dead dating back to 1400BC which are now on display at Newport’s Museum of Island History.
In 2018, a staggering 69,722 finds were recorded in England and Wales. About 90 per cent of these finds were made by metal-detectorists. More Roman finds have been recorded on the Island through the PAS scheme than from other periods but Frank has come across plenty from early medieval, medieval and post medieval times, the Iron Age, Bronze Age, Prehistoric, Neolithic, Mesolithic, Byzantine and even some from the Greek and Roman Provincial. In 2018 Frank recorded 1,132 finds, including 25 treasure items.
Finds have the potential to tell us so much about the past, such as how and where people lived and about the types of objects they made and used. Over the years, Frank has recorded many wonderful objects, some of which have been acquired by the Museum of Island History. Among his personal favourites are a copper-alloy hound figurine, likely to be from the fourth century – possibly an amuletic votive intended for a temple. Frank was particularly interested in an early Christian skillet thought to be a baptismal vessel dating from AD 600-AD 800. A Bronze Age leather-worker’s tool reminds us that many craft skills were practiced in the prehistoric period, not just the manufacture of stone and metal tools and weapons. An Iron Age stater of the Durotriges tribe which inhabited the Island is one of 1,400 Iron Age coins of gold or base silver recorded on the Island under the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
Frank pays tribute to the knowledge displayed by many of his finders, who include members of several metal detector clubs and individual finders. All these metal-detectorists are responsible individuals who have permission from landowners to search for finds on their land – mainly farmland. Finds (apart from treasure) belong to the landowner – but landowners or occupiers often have a written ‘finds agreement’ setting out what happens to any objects found and sharing any monetary gains with detectorists. Many non-treasure finds are retained by metal-detectorists and some are donated to local museums.
Finders of treasure have a legal obligation to report these items under the Treasure Act 1996. A leaflet providing advice for finders of archaeological objects, including how to care for finds, how to record finding conditions and what constitutes as treasure, is available at www.finds.org.uk/documents/advice.pdf.
The finds mentioned in this feature are on display at the Museum of Island History in the historic Guildhall. Why not visit the museum and find out more about the Island’s past?
Most finds recorded from the Island date back to the Romans….from early medieval, medieval and post medieval times, the Iron Age, Bronze Age, Prehistoric, Neolithic, Mesolithic, Byzantine and even some from the Greek and Roman Provincial.