Responding to and recording finds of metal artefacts recovered from, or from the vicinity of, battlefields is problematic. A battlefield can encompass a range of archaeological sites and may date from early Prehistory to the twentieth century. These sites therefore may yield a diverse range of associated material culture.
Metal detectorists may specifically target battlefield sites and their surrounding landscapes or may search the landscape unaware of the underlying archaeology and the significance of any associated finds. When offering these finds for reporting, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) may also be unaware of a battlefield context. Consequently, many typical finds from post-medieval and later sites would not normally be recorded under the PAS scheme.
When reporting battlefield finds, a higher than standard level of find spot provenance accuracy is required (a GNSS/GPS reading with an accuracy of about 10m) to produce any meaningful results or interpretations. On Civil War sites where hundreds of lead shot finds may be recovered, most hobby metal detectorists are unlikely to individually bag and label each metal find, and this results in the loss of contextual data.
Where both a finder and the PAS are aware of the battlefield context, efforts should be made to record all finds accurately. Caution should be taken to avoid creating biases in the archaeological record by only recording finds from a selected area and not recording similar finds from outside of the battlefield context, as understood at the time. Where comprehensive recording of post-medieval conflict finds is undertaken, the recording should be complemented by a wider landscape survey where possible. This should have an archaeological brief, and is beyond the scope and remit of the PAS.
To ensure any useful information is captured from metal detected finds on battlefields, an awareness of the importance of accurately provenanced finds with rigorous recording needs to be reinforced to both finders and landowners. The Battlefield Trust have produced guidance on metal detecting on battlefields, and state that:
All battlefield surveys or excavation projects involving metal detector users will have a nominated Project Coordinator, who will have the necessary battlefield archaeology experience and expertise to achieve the best results from metal detector operators in the field.
No detecting should take place except under supervision of the Project Co-ordinator.
The methodology of Battlefield Archaeology and metal detecting by the Battlefield Trust is also outlined.
PAS Cymru – a guide to the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales
Mark Lodwick, Finds Co-ordinator PAS Cymru, Department of History & Archaeology, National Museum Cardiff, Cathays Park, Cardiff CF10 3NP. Phone: 02920 573226; email: firstname.lastname@example.org