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Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

Portable Antiquities Scheme

People's Choice:
8 votes


The British Museum


Daniel Pett


Research | Online Collection


Scheme homepage

The Portable Antiquities Scheme is run from the British Museum with a consortium of over 50 partner organisations from around England and Wales. It attempts to systematically record archaeological objects found by members of the public whilst pursuing hobbies or work activities. It includes the administration of the Treasure Act, and as such, the site holds details for some of the amazing discoveries that have made worldwide news in the last few years; for example the Frome hoard, the Staffordshire Hoard and the infamous Crosby Garrett Helmet.)

Since 1997, over 680,000 objects have been recorded and made available for academic and lay research online (under a creative commons BY-NC-SA licence) and the website was rebuilt in-house (at a cost of £48, by the submitter) and relaunched in March 2010. There are now over 18,600 people who have contributed to the success of the Scheme and we have over 2600 people registered on the site. All users who register can record an archaeological object that they have found directly onto our database, and a recent guide on how to do this effectively has been produced to explain the process. (A workflow methodology is employed to make sure data is of sufficient standard and error reporting and comment function are provided for further scrutiny.) Data is terminology driven and we adhere to standards employed in the UK's heritage community.

The data collected on the site is available with varying levels of access as much of the information that we collect is highly sensitive. Bona-fide requests for research level access are assessed and then access can be given, this provides full precision latitude and longitude pairs for the find spots of artefacts allowing detailed research to be performed. The database is now becoming central to many archaeological research projects ( of which 230 projects are listed online. Information can be retrieved from the site via a variety of methods, including OAI-PMH, and we are moving towards rdfa throughout all our pages (foaf for example is fully implemented on our contacts pages) and we contribute data to Europeana via CultureGrid.

The site is built on the opensource php Zend Framework, makes extensive use of Yahoo YQL to drive content enrichment  and integrates with a wide array of third party apis; these include:

  • Google maps
  • Flickr - for storing and disseminating press quality images and providing shapefiles for maps 
  • Akismet spam filtering for registration and comments
  • dbPedia for biographical data for Monarchs and Emperors
  • Yahoo geoPlanet for enhancing geo data across all site content
  • Theyworkforyou for retrieval of Parliamentary data and constituency boundaries - for example David Laws
  • Amazon's web services - for data on bibliographic references and also S3 for secure backups
  • Facebook graph api for retrieving recent content on our facebook page (only available to logged in users)

A solidus of Arcadius

Each record created on the database has various formats available - qr code, xml, json, csv, rss, atom - and includes a huge array of information. Data can be displayed according to object type

All images created on the database, are automatically processed using a ported zoomify php script, to produce high resolution zooming views of artefacts (for example - IOW-DA6D56 a solidus of Arcadius). If landowners or finders have agreed to disclosure of findspot, each record has a google map attached and for higher level users, maps can display enhanced geodata from flickr and geoplanet.

The site also provides extensive guides to coin identification (multiple periods), which have now become highly visible on Google. For example our Roman coin guide gives lists of issuing emperors, denominations issued, mints active under their reign, examples recently recorded, find spot maps and podcasts about the emperors. By using dbPedia, we have enhanced our guides further, by retrieving information on battles fought, titles, architecture and biographical information.

Forthcoming enhancements in the next few weeks: include transferring the site's search engine to a solr implementation, release of papers from the Staffordshire Hoard symposium, a guide to Bronze Age artefacts and further integration with 3rd party resources.