Doctoral Research in Portable Antiquities Scheme data and Roman Britain

Project team

  • Tom Brindle, project leader
  • Roger Bland
  • Dan Pett

Department of Britain, Europe and Prehistory 


Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • An Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • The British Museum

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The Portable Antiquities Scheme records archaeological artefacts found by members of the public, many of which are discovered by metal detector users. This information is held on an online database, viewable at, and represents an exciting new archaeological resource with the potential to significantly add to our understanding of the past.

Using the data held on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, this doctoral study is investigating just how much this new set of archaeological information can tell us about the Roman period in Britain.

Comparing the metal detected data with other forms of archaeological information, this research seeks to determine whether the information gathered by the Portable Antiquities Scheme can be used to tell us about previously unknown Roman sites, and whether it can add to our knowledge of those Roman sites that are already known.

The research focuses on a number of sample regions within Britain, in order to examine the relationship between metal detected data and other archaeological methods in different areas. The areas for which this data is being investigated are provisionally Northamptonshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Kent.

The reason for looking at data from different areas is that the archaeological evidence for Roman activity varies from region to region. By examining several areas it will be easier to make an assessment of the potential that the Portable Antiquities Scheme data has to tell us about Roman Britain as a whole.


The chief objective of this research is to assess the extent to which the use of Portable Antiquities Scheme data can contribute to the study of the past.

The study seeks to answer several broad questions: Can the traditional methods used to study archaeological artefacts found from archaeological excavations be used to study metal detector finds? Can this new archaeological database be used to inform us about previously unknown Roman sites? Can metal detector data tell us new information about Roman sites that we already know a lot about? How reliable is metal detector data for telling us about the past? The answers to all of these questions will contribute to answering the much more general question; how is our knowledge of the Roman period enhanced by the study of Portable Antiquities Scheme data?

Although this study focuses on the Roman period, it is intended that the outcomes will have wider implications for those interested in using similar data for the study of other periods, and will provide an example for how such work may be undertaken in the future.

Further information - Portable Antiquities Scheme home page