Methods of Investigation

VASLE utilises a range of different data sources, with methods of analysis and investigation specially designed to ensure that research steadily progresses through increasingly targeted and in-depth study. This provides the most comprehensive work on the interpretation of portable antiquities yet attempted.

What data is included in VASLE?

VASLE draws its data from a variety of areas, but there are two principal sources. These are the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) which has been recording casual finds, many made by metal-detectorists, since 1997, and from the Early Medieval Corpus (EMC) at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge which lists all finds of coinage found in Britain which date to the period 410-1180. In addition, data from excavations and field surveys is being utlised in Aim 1 to allow the PAS materials to be compared to a longer-standing, although much smaller, dataset. This is particularly important for areas where the PAS has only been in existence for a short time. In Aim 2, the comparison between metal-detected and excavated assemblages, as well as the additional evidence from site layout, buildings, enclosures etc, helps in the interpretation of the metal-detected materials which are obvoiusly biased towards certains types of objects and materials.

Why are the PAS and EMC databases important?

Both databases are important because they are based around data collected by non-archaeologists, mostly metal-detectorists. Traditionally, archaeology and metal-detecting have not had an easy relationship and there have been misgivings about archaeologists using such data in their analyses. However, numismatists (specialists in the study of coinage) have successfully used such finds in their studies of monetary history for a number of years, and archaeologists have begun to make more use of them in the last decade, especially those whose research interests fall into the early medieval period. As a result, research into the archaeological implications of metal-detecting remains at a relatively early stage, and many aspects are understudied and poorly understood. These include the nature and function of highly 'productive sites' from which large amounts of metalwork and coinage have been recovered. These two databases are therefore of fundamental importance to VASLE because they will help to assess what metal-detected and casual finds can tell us on a national scale, both regarding ancient settlement and society, and the nature of modern recovery methods.

How is the data being analysed?

There are two broad types of analysis which form the core of VASLE's research- desk-based research, and field survey. The former provides the bulk of the research and is running throughout the length of the project. It is especially important for VASLE's fieldwork element in providing an interpretative framework into which the field surveys can be planned and undertaken. It has involved the checking and cleaning of the large databases described above (see Naylor and Richards 2005 for a discussion of the challenges of using this type of data), the mapping of finds across the country and closer examinations of the finds made at individual sites. Further information can be found at:

Desk-based research

Field survey


Page last updated by John Naylor on 19/12/2006

Back To Top

VASLE is funded by

The Arts and Humanities Research Council