50 Finds from Essex by Ben Paites
The Portable Antiquities Scheme began in 1997 and operates across England and Wales, promoting the recording of archaeological material found by members of the public onto their free online database (https://finds.org.uk/database). Over 30 Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs) operate across the country, ensuring each county is covered. The FLOs visit metal-detecting clubs and host events at museums and other institutions, to allow members of the public to get their finds identified and recorded. Recording them ensures that as many people as possible get the opportunity to see some of the wonderful objects that are uncovered every day.
One other role the FLOs have is to administer the Treasure Act 1996, by identifying any objects that might be Treasure (https://finds.org.uk/treasure). As a result, the work of the PAS has facilitated the acquisitions of some incredible objects by museums across the country.
As of October 2016, over 1,200,000 individual objects have been recorded onto the database. This has allowed a great deal of research into the history of England and Wales. From Stone Age tools to Elizabethan jewellery, there have been some incredible discoveries in the past 20 years and not all of them have been treasure. Essex alone has recorded over 20,000 and has one of the highest numbers of Treasure cases per year in the country. 50 Finds from Essex brings together just some of those objects and attempts to unravel the stories they tell, within the historical context in which they were made and used.
The book itself looks at each region within the county, highlighting some of the objects from a wide range of periods. In Uttlesford, there is a wealth of Anglo-Saxon material that is not present in the rest of the county. Objects such as no. 4 (fig. 1), highlight the wealth of some people living in Early Medieval Essex.
The next chapter examines finds from the Braintree area, including objects almost 10,000 years old. For a region with sites such as Heddingham Castle, there is no surprise that the Medieval finds from the region are also significant. Object no. 12 (fig. 2), shows that pilgrim badges, more commonly made of lead, could also come in highly decorative forms. The possible connection with this particular badge and Anne of Cleves is particularly tantalising.
Next stop on the journey around Essex is Colchester and Tendring, a region with rich coastal archaeology and some of the most significant Roman sites in the country. From a Roman brooch produced in Gaul to Medieval figurines with links to a Colchester abbey, the finds from North East Essex reflects Britain’s tumultuous history at a local level. Object no. 20 (fig. 3), a Viking sword found in the river Colne, highlights this more than any other.
Finds from Epping Forest and Harlow have provided a wealth of information about Essex’s most ancient woodland. With some significant Iron Age defensive structures in the area, there is no surprise that several significant objects from that period have been found. This includes some of the earliest currency used in Britain, brought over from continental Europe, as well as enigmatic object no. 23 (fig. 4) that proves to be a mystery to experts across the world.
Brentwood, Basildon and Thurrock are individually rather small districts, but have produced a great deal of finds with several metal detecting clubs in the area. Being so close to the River Thames, the ancient highway into London, the diverse history of the region is reflected in the finds. This region has provided some insight into how coins can be more than just currency, such as a Byzantine coin turned into a pendant. Alongside this are objects that reflect wealth beyond currency, brought through this region for centuries. Object no. 35 (fig. 5) is a gold, ruby and diamond pendant similar to one worn by Elizabeth I, now on display in Colchester Castle.
Central Essex and the area around Chelmsford, the county capital, showcases the great industry that Essex has seen throughout its history. Not only in the form of incredible skilfully produced objects, but also objects that highlight the process of production. Object no. 39 (fig. 6.), though not particularly impressive to look at, shows how Roman craftspeople would practice their designs before producing the mould to cast an object.
The final region that is examined is Southend, Maldon, Rochford and Castle Point, an area of coastal and estuarine environments, with limited opportunities for detecting due to a large portion being owned by the Ministry of Defence. However, the maritime nature of this region is clearly reflected in the finds from further inland. Objects came to Britain from far and wide during the Bronze Age, as seen in the Burnham on Crouch hoard. As ships allowed for faster travel they became a significant part of the lives of people living in Southern Essex. Object no. 49 (fig. 7.) shows this, as a ship was chosen to be used on a seal matrix.
Finally, Object no. 50 (fig. 8) was chosen to highlight the fact that people today continue to leave things that can be discovered in the future. These vessels were rescued from the river Colne in the summer of 2015. Although produced in recent times, they highlight the diversification of Colchester in the modern day. Prior to this, there had been no recorded instance of a Hindu offering in the river. If a member of the public had not spotted them and notified their local FLO, those objects may have been sitting in the river for centuries to come.
Ben Paites new book 50 Finds from Essex is available for purchase now.