Initial reflections on the MicroPasts Knowledge Exchange Workshop

How do we use crowd-based methods? What benefits do they generate? Where do they fall short? How can we sustain them? And how do they support the work of organisations in a heritage ecology? These were the questions addressed at a knowledge exchange workshop hosted by the UCL Institute of Archaeology on 23 September. It builds upon the MicroPasts project, which has put nearly £400,000 of Arts and Humanities Research Council money to work in creating crowd-sourcing, crowd-funding and forum platforms to support the collaborative study of the human past. The workshop was an opportunity to share the learning from the MicroPasts project and reflect further upon how this insight can be deployed more widely across the heritage world. Those present were experts from across the fundraising, policy, evaluation and public engagement professions.

The workshop provoked a few thoughts about the nature of crowd-based methods and their use in research, fundraising and public engagement. My thoughts are partly informed by my ever-weakening relationship with the archaeology and heritage sector. My PhD looked at archaeology public policy, yet over the last ten years I have worked in a broader set of cultural disciplines and grown ever-more convinced that the archaeology world is too introspective for its own good. It was therefore refreshing at the workshop to get perspectives from a wide range of voices: from the Arts Council, Nesta, the Smithsonian Institute, and Zooniverse (the popular online citizen science platform).

What seemed clear from the day was that crowd-funding and crowd-sourcing are two distinct types of activity. Perhaps the only thing that unites them is the c-word. Crowd-funding is in many ways simply a form of fundraising that takes advantage of digital technology. There are a variety of interesting uses of crowd-funding in the broader culture sector (the publisher Unbound springs to mind) but overall it’s used in the heritage sector as a fairly straightforward development of classic fundraising methods. It therefore exhibits all the strengths and weaknesses of passing the donation plate. Crowd-sourcing is an entirely different beast, and demands a re-imagining of what constitutes public engagement, volunteering, labour, value and ethics.

MicroPasts and similar platforms are best thought of as Citizen Science, not crowd-sourcing. In Citizen Science the crowd is often contributing their labour, they are not donating materials. Quite frequently, those participating as Citizen Scientists far outnumber those who have been involved in the creation of a project. The tasks in MicroPasts are set by researchers and a few others drawn from a pool of interested “Citizens”, not the mass of people who constitute the “crowd”. The work of MicroPasts is complete once the researcher decides, not the crowd. This means that MicroPasts resembles a Zooniverse-style platform with an exclusively heritage flavour.

For archaeology and heritage to take full advantage of Citizen Science opportunities, I have the following simple suggestions inspired by conversations at the workshop: that similar projects combine resources to increase their visibility; and that all projects provide clear and compelling reasons for people to volunteer their time to help out.

We heard of a few examples of transcribing or annotating archive material. Four different examples were mentioned at the workshop. Each one had their own platform. There was Transcribe Bentham (bespoke UCL interface); AnnoTate (Zooniverse); Oxford HEIR project (bespoke Oxford interface); and Amarna Archive (MicroPasts). In the busy marketplace of distracting things to do online, it would make sense for there to be one global online shopfront for all projects that require the transcription, annotation and tagging skills of the general public. Anyone with an interest in history, archaeology and archives would know where to go. That way, these projects wouldn’t operate in isolation, like heritage needles in a lolcats haystack.

The other striking theme from the workshop was the various factors that drive people to participate in these online projects. To my mind, many of the projects resemble the tasks advertised through Amazon Mechanical Turk (a sort of online labour exchange run by the well-known online store). The motivation for Turkers (as the workforce on that platform are known) is superficially clear: piecemeal monetary return for tasks successfully completed. However, research into the experience of Turkers shows that they have a complex range of motivations, from the meditative state that the tasks can sometimes induce, to the simple pleasure of contributing to a job well done. For some people, monetary incentives are going to be key in helping Citizen Science projects to achieve their goals. At the workshop we heard a bit about the motivations of Zooniverse and MicroPasts participants. However, there is clearly a need for some modest segmentation of user motivations, in order to present them with a basket of incentives and rewards for participation. Without this, the heritage Citizen Science projects risk merely attracting the same enthusiasts that always engage in this activity, whether online or offline. That small and unrepresentative group could be greatly expanded to not only widen access to heritage but also get research projects completed more efficiently.

James Doeser is a freelance consultant and researcher. He tweets at @jamesdoeser

Posted in Research

MicroPasts Knowledge Exchanges Workshops

Two back-to-back workshops were held on 23 September at the UCL Institute of Archaeology. The aim of the MicroPasts Knowledge Exchanges workshops was to share the practices, shortcomings and achievements experienced by the MicroPasts project and use these as fodder for wider discussion about the use and evaluation of both crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding within a broader heritage ‘ecology’.

Below is the programme, with links to videos of the presentations
Twitter discussion via #micropasts


Workshop 1 (morning)

Using crowd-based methods in a heritage ‘ecology’

08.45-09.10: Registration and coffee

09.10-09.20: Welcome

09.20-09.55: Presentation about the MicroPasts case study Chiara Bonacchi, UCL Institute of Archaeology

09.55-10.30: Discussion over Theme 1 – Crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding for Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums

Discussant 1: Adrian Babbidge, Egeria
Discussant 2: Dominic Tweddle, National Museum of the Royal Navy
Discussant 3: Luiza Sauma, Art Fund
Response from the floor

10.30-11.05: Discussion over Theme 2 – Crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding for heritage buildings and sites

Discussant 1: Ben Cowell, National trust and The Heritage Alliance
Discussant 2: Mark Webb, The Heritage Alliance, Giving to Heritage project
Discussant 3: Sally Crawford, University of Oxford, HEIR project
Response from the floor

11.05-11.20: Coffee Break

11.20-11.55: Discussion over Theme 3 – Crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding for universities and academic research in the humanities and social sciences

Discussant 1: Tim Causer, UCL Laws
Discussant 2: Jim O’Donnell, University of Oxford, Zooniverse project
Response from the floor

11.55-12.30: Discussion over Theme 4 – Funding policies for heritage crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding

Discussant 1: Hedley Swain, Arts Council England
Discussant 2: Mark Webb, The Heritage Alliance, Giving to Heritage project
Discussant 3: John Davies, Nesta
Response from the floor

12.30-13.00: Summary, final discussion and conclusion  

13.00-14.00: Lunch (provided)


 Workshop 2 (afternoon)

Evaluating heritage crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding

 14.00-14.50: Project-based presentations focussing on evaluation aims and methodologies

14.00-14.10: MicroPasts, Chiara Bonacchi, UCL Institute of Archaeology
14.10-14.20: Transcribe Bentham, Tim Causer, UCL Law
14.20-14.30: Smithsonian Transcription Centre, Meghan Ferriter, Smithsonian Institution
14.30-14.40: Zooniverse, Jim O’Donnell, University of Oxford
14.40-14.50: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, Daniel Pett, British Museum

14.50-15.30: Discussion over Theme 5 – Insights, measures, methods and ethical challenges in evaluative practices

Discussant 1: Stuart Dunn, King’s College London
Discussant 2: Mia Ridge, Open University
Discussant 3: James Doeser, Independent Consultant
Response from the floor

15.30-15.45: Coffee break

15.45-16.30: Summary, final discussion and conclusion


Posted in Research

The Mary Rose – MicroPasts Collaboration, Week 1

On Friday 22nd May, the Mary Rose Trust and MicroPasts teams launched a collaborative 3D photo-masking pilot project on the MicroPasts crowdsourcing platform. The aim is to create 3D models for three of the museum’s artefacts. We are really grateful to MicroPasts collaborators for helping complete 37% of the application already (as of 29th May)! It is exciting to see people engaging with the collection online, and it will be interesting to discover how the 3D models are viewed, downloaded and used, once developed.

With the project now underway, we would like to take the opportunity to provide some background information on the Mary Rose, the Museum and the artefacts included as part of this first pilot project with MicroPasts.

The Mary Rose Museum, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard © Hufton+Crow

The Mary Rose was a Tudor warship that sank during a battle with an invading French fleet near Portsmouth, on the South coast of England, in 1545. The hull and her contents were covered (and preserved) by the silts of the Solent. They remained there until they were rediscovered in 1971. Following one of the largest maritime excavations ever undertaken, the hull was eventually raised on 11th October 1982.

Lower Deck walkway of the Context Gallery © Hufton+Crow

In May 2013 a new purpose built museum, that reunited the hull and thousands of her artefacts, was opened to the public. The hull, at the centre of this museum, is undergoing an air drying treatment. This is the final stage of her conservation, a process that has lasted over 30 years. In 2016, the air drying will be completed, the museum will be closed while the walls surrounding the hull are taken down and the museum will then be re-opened with amazing new views of the hull throughout the building.

The current MicroPasts 3D photo-masking pilot project is based around three of the artefacts that can be seen on display in the museum. These are:

Bone angels 

The bone plaque of two angels was identified as being similar to those made in the Northern Italian workshops of the Embriachi family who produced a variety of luxury objects such as mirrors, caskets and triptychs that incorporated a series of bone or ivory plaques with stained wood and horn.

Bone angel (81A2851) – © Mary Rose Trust

Wooden tankard with lid

The staved wooden tankard was one of the most complete tankards recovered during the excavations on the Mary Rose. It is interesting to note that oak, poplar, pine, beech and willow were all used in its construction. 

Wooden tankard (81A3915.1-11) - © Mary Rose Trust

Wooden tankard (2) (81A3915.1-11) – © Mary Rose Trust


Beech wooden bowl 

The beech wooden bowl is one of 30 recovered during the excavations and it has one of the more intricate set of markings on both the inside and outside. These are thought to denote its ownership.

Wooden bowl Beech with personal markings (82A1712) - © Mary Rose Trust

Wooden bowl Beech with personal markings (82A1712) – © Mary Rose Trust

The Mary Rose team

Posted in Research

The MicroPasts conference on YouTube


If you have missed the MicroPasts conference on ‘Crowdsourcing and Crowdfunding our Human Past’, on 31 March 2015, you can now catch-up!

We are publishing the videos of the presentations given on the day on our MicroPasts YouTube channel.

Have a look and let us know any thoughts or questions!


Posted in Research

Answers in the Amphoras…

Carefully-made drawings have been a fundamental way that archaeologists have recorded their finds since the dawn of archaeology as a formal academic subject at the end of the 19th century. As time has gone on, these drawings have become ever more technical in their style and standardised in their components. Sadly, this means there are fewer opportunities these days for archaeological illustrators to show off their personal artistry in making such drawings (here’s a great example). However, in contrast, this attention to standardisation means the archaeological drawings are now more easily compared to one another. A typical feature of archaeological artefact drawings today is the depiction of what an object looks like ‘in section’ or ‘in profile’. For something like a cup, bowl or storage jar, the drawing would show the thickness of the vessel body and the shape of its interior, (see below, figure 2a).

People have long used such drawings as a basis for characterising the shape of containers and other vessels found in the archaeological record, not least because such metrics can useful for dating particular vessels to particular time periods (and placing them in a ‘typology’ of vessel shapes). Furthermore, for certain vessel types, volumetric capacity is of particular interest (how much they can hold), both as a guide to how much people were cooking, storing or transporting in one go and as a way of perhaps understanding weight and capacity systems in the human past (e.g. discovering the prehistoric and historic equivalents for standard liquid measures such as our modern ‘pint’ or ‘litre’)


Figure 1. Mediterranean amphoras: (left) one of the famous early typologies of amphoras by Heinrich Dressel and (right) some examples of amphoras from Pompeii.


All of the above obsessions in archaeology come to a head for those who specialise in studying vessels such as ‘amphoras’ (figure 1).  Virginia Grace was one of the early amphora researchers who best described the surprisingly wide range of advantages that this specialised pottery form offered for shipping liquid commodities such as olive oil and wine (amongst others) around the Mediterranean. To paraphrase and extend her comments, an amphora is a clay two-handled jar whose design is specialised for maritime transport. Its elongated, symmetrical shape could be fashioned on a potter’s wheel which facilitated the production of large numbers of regular shapes. The common choice of a pointed-base made many amphoras less vulnerable to breakage and allowed them to be stacked in multiple layers in the holds of Mediterranean ships (e.g. with the bases of one layer sitting in the space between the vessels below). They could also be placed individually in stands, arrayed in groups on racks, leant against one another on wharves and in warehouses, or half-buried on the beach whenever boats stopped in more isolated coastal locations.  The design could also be carried in panniers, slung from ropes or hoisted onto the shoulder of a human porter, while an amphora’s narrow neck was perfect for sealing with a stopper and being rendered air-tight with a covering of clay or lime. The term amphora itself implies ‘two-handles’, and the combination of these two sturdy points of purchase, plus the pointed-base as a third, meant that these vessels could be easily carried by porters or controlled for pouring. It is no surprise therefore that amphoras have a really deep Mediterranean history stretching right back to at least the Middle Bronze Age (if not before) and continuing right into the Medieval period and despite rising competition from alternative transport forms such as the wooden barrel (more information on Mediterranean container history here).

For over a hundred years, archaeologists have classified different amphoras into different types based on their overall shape, surface designs (if any) and type-of-clay and these typologies have been both useful both as a dating device and as a way of understanding possible changing transport priorities through time. In the past, both producers (of amphoras and/or their liquid contents), merchants and consumers were obviously interested in knowing the volumetric capacity of an amphora (and standardising this where possible) so they were keen to standardise the shape and be able to calculate its capacity wherever possible. It was also tempting to produce eye-catching shapes and decoration that might signal the contents came from an exotic part of the Mediterranean and/or a particularly reputable source (just as there are efforts to brand olive oils and wines today via their containers and labelling). Or producers and distributors might wish to foster designs that were well-adapted for handling by dockside workers and for surviving the misfortunes of long-distance sea travel in a shiphold full of other cargo.  Regardless, amphoras show some really interesting changes in design over their 3,000+ year-old history and these changes also match in interesting ways wider changes in the nature of the Mediterranean economy, big geo-political shifts such as the rise and fall of the Roman empire and so on.


Figure 2. Four steps for building a crowd-sourced amphora model (left to right): the original line drawing, the crowd-sourced polygons with deliberate overlaps, the cleaned-up 2d polygons, and the final 3d model.


In terms of measuring amphoras, people have tried a host of different methods. They have taken simple measures such as the amphora height or width, but also complex ones such as the amphora’s centre of gravity when full, or its overall capacity (how much it could hold). The latter measure of volume can be derived directly by filling an intact example of an amphora with seeds, water, sealed bags of liquid, beans or polystyrene beads (amongst others!) or it can be estimated mathematically. In fact, mathematical estimation of volumes (and other properties) for curves, conoids, spheroids etc. has been a domain of science and engineering actively researched since at least Hellenistic and Roman times, with major figures such as Archimedes, Apollonius of Perga and Hero of Alexandria working on the problem (with the suspicion that symmetrical real-world objects such as amphoras or jars were sometimes on their minds: for example, see here).

Computer-based methods for creating such a 3D ‘solid of revolution’ from a standard 2D archaeological line drawing have been around for at least couple of decades, but it is surprising that they have not been used more systematically. Through the help of many contributors on MicroPasts, we are therefore hoping to collect 2d and 3d models of much large numbers of container types so we can compare their shapes statistically, but also so we can explore other changing properties such as their volumetric capacity (how much they could hold and how consistent these measures are through time), centre of gravity when full or empty (important for how a human porter or a draft animal might handle them) or behaviour when stacked (e.g. where, and how frequently, they might break when bumping around in a ship’s hold).

One of our current MicroPasts applications re-uses line drawings of amphoras made by Penny Copeland as part of a wonderful web resource about Roman amphoras developed by the University of Southampton and now maintained by the UK Archaeology Data Service. The goal is to enlist public help in digitising lines and polygons on top of the existing scanned drawings and thereby enabling both very good quality 2D and 3d models of these.  Figure 2 shows an example of one of Penny’s original line drawings, as well as a crowd-sourced version, a clean 2d model derived from it, and finally 3d model (all using open source software and with some great help on the automated Blender part from Tom Haines: post-processing scripts here). Once the crowd-sourced version is created the rest of the process is automatic and allows us to potentially compare a large number of amphora types. Hence, there are still plenty of important archaeological answers to be found in the amphoras and good reasons to enlist public help. If you have a spare moment, want to get some experience of GIS-style ‘vector digitising’ or just find these objects fascinating, then please lend a hand!

Posted in Research Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

Crowd-sourcing and Crowd-funding our Human Past

The MicroPasts end of first phase funding conference will be held at the Royal Geographical Society on the 31st March 2015. We look forward to welcoming you and tickets can be purchased online or via contacting us directly. The conference programme has now been finalised and features some very interesting speakers as shown below. Lunch is provided in the ticket price and there will be some free things to take away (apart from the knowledge shared) and we hope to film the speakers. Many of the speakers are on Twitter (linked to their names below) and there maybe a lively back channel to accompany the event, which will be archived.

09.30-09.45 Welcome (Andrew Bevan, UCL)

09.45-10.30 Crowd-fuelled archaeology and history online: an introduction to MicroPasts (Chiara Bonacchi and Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, UCL)

10.30-10.55 Curatorial practice and the crowd-sourcing of museum archives and objects (Daniel Pett, Jennifer Wexler and Neil Wilkin, British Museum)

10.55-11.20 PyBossa: Helping citizens and scientists to collaborate (Daniel Lombraña González, PyBossa)

11.20-11.35 Coffee break (provided)

11.35-12.00 Crowdsourcing archaeological data through the Heritage Together project (Helen Miles, Aberystwyth University; Katharina Moeller and Andrew Wilson (Bangor University)

12.00-12.25 From curated space to personal space: crowdsourcing and the museum experience (Stuart Dunn, KCL)

12.25-12.50 Experiences from the Smithsonian Institution Transcription Center (Meghan Ferriter, Smithsonian Institution Transcription Center)

12.50-13.15 If you build it, will they come? (Maiya Pina-Dacier, DigVentures)

13.15-14.15 Lunch (provided)

14.15-14.30 The Ur Project. Reunification and integration (Birger Helgestad, British Museum)

14.30-14.45 Worthington G. Smith: his haunts and relics (Claire Harris, British Museum)

14.45-15.00 Reviewing MicroPasts (Lisa Cardy, MicroPasts)

15.00-15.15 Reviewing MicroPasts (Hugh Fiske, MicroPasts)

15.15-15.30 Break

15.30-15.45 3D Scans in the Wild (Thomas Flynn, multimedia designer)

15.45-16.00 Process and experimentation in making 3D prints of museum objects (Stefano Pratesi, ThinkSee3D)

16.00-16.15 Do Touch! Archaeology and 3D printing in the Classroom (Jordan Hassell and Oliver Hutchinson, UCL)

16.15-16.30 3D models and digital futures at the British Museum (Suzy Hogg, British Museum)

16.30-17.00 Discussion

17:00 Adjourn to a pub for further conversation







Posted in Research Tagged with: , , , , , ,


I’ve been a MicroPasts contributor for around two months now, a good time to write this post about why I wanted to be one of the ‘sourced’ crowd and what I’ve got out of it so far. To begin with, here’s my brief summary of MicroPasts: it’s a web-based collection of archaeological projects that anyone can get involved with. The MicroPasts site hosts lots of content, some of which I’ll return to later, but let me start with ‘crowdsourcing’.

The MicroPasts team have produced a number of applications that can be worked on through a web browser. All I needed to do to get started was register some basic details and follow a tutorial about what I needed to do with some handy hints and tips. Typical volunteer activities or ‘applications’ include transcribing digitised hand written British Museum index cards and editing photographs of Bronze Age objects to create outlines (or ‘masks) that can then be processed to create 3D models of the original objects. You can see the latest set of applications here. Whichever MicroPasts application you decide (I particularly enjoyed drawing lines around Bronze Age objects….) the overall outcome is the same: your manual input feeds into a growing body of openly available digitised data that anyone can access via their computer. If the warm feeling inside that ‘doing your bit’ gives you isn’t enough, you also get a name check in the Community area. If you want to read more on why open data is so important, even more so for archaeology, have a look at this post.

One of a set of photographs of the palstave I worked with when creating a 3D model

One of a set of photographs of the palstave I worked with when creating a 3D model

After graduating in Archaeological Science (a long time ago) and a few unsuccessful attempts at an archaeology-based career, I did an MSc in Information Science. This was with the intention of working in the heritage sector, but I have been working as a librarian ever since. I want to shift my career back towards archaeology, but without losing the skills I’ve gained in the library profession, especially those around digital archiving. Archaeology has a long history of openness and sharing (the first OA ejournal was ‘Internet Archaeology’, way back in 1996) and I knew there’d be lots of opportunities to volunteer on digs. However I wanted to focus on what was possible digitally, even during my degree I’d always preferred the post excavation side of archaeology. I’d been considering this for a while, having been very inspired by the 2012 conference ‘Digital Engagement in Archaeology’ and following some key contributors on Twitter ever since I’d been aware of MicroPasts when it launched at the end of 2013.

Having completed some MicroPasts applications I decided to get in touch with Chiara about doing something beyond working on the web-based applications, something substantial to put on my CV. After some emailing and meeting up with Chiara and Adi, I joined a team of other contributors creating 3D models of Bronze Age artefacts from the outputs of the photomasking application. With lots of help and advice from the MicroPasts forum, so far I’ve produced two 3D models of palstaves (a type of a Bronze Age axe). At the time of writing, I am just about to start working on my 3rd model.

A tweet announcing the finished 3D model

A tweet announcing the finished 3D model

I’ve recently completed two application forms, one for a job and one for a research post, in archaeological areas, both benefitting from enhanced archaeological credentials on my CV from my involvement with MicroPasts. So now there’s more open research data out there for anyone who’s interested in Bronze Age artefacts (Robert Kaleta is planning on using the models as part of his PhD research) and for me, some more skills and experience to boost my career moves.

There’s been a huge rise in community and public archaeology and I think MicroPasts is perfect for people like me who aren’t employed in the archaeology sector and want to get involved in something other than excavating. Presumably this is also true of the 800 registered users in the MicroPasts community ‘crowd’ working on the applications. But how does archaeology benefit? You can see the latest outputs in the data centre : there are now more than fifty openly available 3D models of Bronze Age objects that didn’t exist before the MicroPasts platform launched and any researcher can view digitised versions of index cards without having to travel to the British Museum.


Posted in Research

The Devizes/Wiltshire Museum Collection in the Bronze Age Index

In the process of digitising the Bronze Age Index ( we have come across a small collection of Index cards recording artefacts in the Wiltshire Museum (formerly the Devizes Museum: This was recently written up by Culture24 (, highlighting our ongoing collaboration with the Wiltshire Museum as we continue to research this collection.

"Stonehenge World Heritage Site map 2" by RobinLeicester building on OS OpenData VextorMap District Raster files - OS Open Data with additional material cited at World Heritage Site list No 373. Via Wikimedia Commons -

Map of the Stonehenge region, showing some of sites (Lake Down, Normanton, Durrington, Cursus) represented in the Index © Robin Leicester Via Wikimedia Commons –

These cards illustrate over a hundred bronze objects found largely during 18th and 19th century antiquarian investigations of various barrow groups in the regions surrounding the monumental landscapes of Stonehenge and Avebury. These include some of the famous barrow cemeteries found in Salisbury Plain (pictured above), such as the Lake Down Group, Normanton Group (Bush Barrow), and Amesbury Curses, for example:


Riveted dagger from Bush Barrow, Normanton Barrow Group, Salisbury Plain © Trustees of the British Museum


Artefacts from Bush Barrow on display in the Wiltshire Museum © Courtesy Wiltshire Heritage Museum

Artefacts from Bush Barrow on display in the Wiltshire Museum © Courtesy Wiltshire Heritage Museum


Dagger from a barrow found inside the west end of Stonehenge Cursus. © Trustees of the British Museum



Dagger from Lake Down barrow group, Salisbury Plain. © Trustees of the British Museum

Finds from less well-known sites, such as Silk Hill (below) near Durrington, are also represented, with the individual cards compiling the early publication record for each object:


Rare dagger from Silk Hill barrow group, near Durrington. © Trustees of the British Museum



Rare pin from Silk Hill barrow group, near Durrington. © Trustees of the British Museum

As we continue to expand our research into the BA Index, we are planning to connect into new research and developments in British archaeology. For example, the crutch-headed bronze pin pictured (above, and close-up below, right) from Silk Hill, is an infrequent type found in both ‘Wessex 1 and 2’ graves during the later part of the Early Bronze Age. Recent research (S. Needham, M. Parker Pearson, A.Tyler, M. Richards, M. Jay, Antiquity J. 84 (2010)) reassessing antiquarian records and collections at the Wiltshire Museum, showed that another crutch-headed pin (pictured below, left) from West Overton G1 barrow, near Avebury was found with a radiocarbon-dated burial, allowing us to date the Silk Hill burial with a similar pin to around 2020-1770 cal BC.


MBA pins from West Overton G1 barrow (left) and Silk Hill barrow (right). © Trustees of the British Museum

Casual finds from the antiquarian record are also recorded in the Bronze Age Index, including artefacts which have now unfortunately been lost (below) or not well-research.


Lost object recorded in the Index © Trustees of the British Museum

While some of these cards are now out of date information, they do offer us an excellent picture of the early antiquarian discoveries found in the region over 200 years ago, especially those of William Cunnington and Sir Richard Colt Hoare.  Many of these sites would have never been recorded if not for their hard work!

Further collaboration with the Wiltshire Museum, and the integration of the digital resources available via their collection portal ( will allow us to update and expand our records as we continue to expand our research. This information will eventually be integrated into the PAS ( database, making it one of the largest records of prehistoric objects in the UK and the world!

Many thanks to the Wiltshire Museum and Culture24 for collaborating with us on this collection!

Posted in Research

Later Bronze Age Ornaments

Bronze Age ornaments form a major category of metal artefact. Those made of gold are some of the most captivating prehistoric objects known to us. They are probably the most personal objects surviving as they were worn on the body and, as is still true today, were a daily and ever-present signaller of identity, status and an individual’s personality.

The term ornament is rather cumbersome and old fashioned, but by this we essentially mean jewellery. This includes rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, objects worn in the hair, dress pins and other types of clothes fasteners. As the ornament data from the Bronze Age Index is about to be put on the MircoPasts website, we thought it would be useful to give a quick introduction to this object category.

Most Bronze Age ornaments are often believed to date within the Middle Bronze Age, c. 1400-1150 BC. This was even known as the ‘Ornament Horizon’, although now other terms are preferred (See ‘Later Prehistoric Britain’ blog by Neil Wilkin and Jennifer Wexler, below). Generally speaking, Middle Bronze Age bronze objects date to the Taunton period (1400-1250 BC), whereas Middle Bronze Age gold dates slightly later to the Penard phase (1300-1140 BC). There are only a small number of ornaments dated to the next 200 years, although we should assume that they were still used. The last 150 years of the Bronze Age (950-800 BC) saw a huge increase in ornament deposition.

Recent and ongoing work by Ben Roberts (2007) on Middle Bronze Age ornaments has done much to enhance our understanding of these objects. His work with colleagues at the British Museum also includes information and fantastic pictures of all European Bronze Age gold objects in the museum, available online at:

Scrolling through these images provides a breathtaking insight into what some people were wearing in the Bronze Age, and the technical ability of Bronze Age smiths.

Middle Bronze Age ornaments are often large and would have been awkward to wear. This includes the ‘Sussex Loop’ bracelets and Quoit Headed pins, whose circular head could reach 15cm in diameter. Other dress pins are over 30cm in length. Clearly in the Middle Bronze Age people suffered for their fashion!


Middle Bronze Age ornaments from East Dean, Peadown hoard, Sussex. The middle pin is 30cm long. The object on the top right is a Sussex Loop bracelet. © Trustees of the British Museum

Middle Bronze Age ornaments from East Dean, Peadown hoard, Sussex. The middle pin is 30cm long. The object on the top right is a Sussex Loop bracelet. © Trustees of the British Museum

Middle Bronze Age gold from the Crow Down hoard, West Berkshire. © British Museum Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)

Middle Bronze Age gold from the Crow Down hoard, West Berkshire. © British Museum Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)

I have recently undertaken work on Late Bronze Age ornaments. This was for my Masters thesis at Cardiff University. A focus of this was on bracelets, and I have created a new typology that has shown some interesting regional patterns. I have also compiled a catalogue of all known Late Bronze Age ornaments, and analysed patterns in the information.

This has firstly demonstrated that there are many more ornaments dating to this period than is usually appreciated. So far at least 1100 objects date to c.1150-600 BC, of which c.770 belong to the Ewart Park phase of c.950-800 BC. This primarily includes objects made from gold and bronze, but also amber, jet and shale.

These objects are not as large and ostentatious as those in the Middle Bronze Age. They are dominated by a range of pins and bracelets, but there are also more unusual objects made from gold that we don’t know exactly how they were used. This includes small ‘lock-rings’ and ‘penannular rings’. These usually have a gap in their circumference, so I like to think they were worn as earrings after a pierced ear has been stretched to allow for their width. However, not all have these gaps, so there is still debate as to their use. Another idea is that they were used to help tie up clothing or hair. Other unusual gold objects include so-called ‘dress fasteners’ and ‘sleeve fasteners’. These are primarily found in Ireland, but do also appear in Britain. These are both of a very similar form to some bracelets dating to the same period. There seems to be a continuum in the size of these types of objects, with each type merging into the other. As these objects are almost always found as single finds or in hoards, context is not very helpful in understanding how they were used. The only find that is vaguely useful are the two gold penannular rings found with a cremation at Mucking North Ring, Essex (Bond 1988, 14). If anyone has ideas as to how these objects may have been used, please leave a comment!

‘Sleeve fastener’ from Ireland © Trustees of the British Museum

‘Sleeve fastener’ from Ireland © Trustees of the British Museum


Gold bracelet from Morvah, Cornwall © Trustees of the British Museum

Gold bracelet from Morvah, Cornwall © Trustees of the British Museum


‘Dress fastener’ from Islay, Argyll and Bute © Trustees of the British Museum

‘Sleeve fastener’ from Ireland © Trustees of the British Museum


Lock- ring from Cheesburn Grange, Northumberland l © Trustees of the British Museum

Lock- ring from Cheesburn Grange, Northumberland l © Trustees of the British Museum

Lock-ring from Gaerwen, Anglesey © Trustees of the British Museum

Lock-ring from Gaerwen, Anglesey © Trustees of the British Museum

One of the observations that came up in my research is that there are certain patterns in ornament deposition. Firstly, single ornaments very rarely occur alone in hoards. There are also no hoards that contain non-metal ornaments – amber, shale and jet – that do not also contain metallic ornaments. Bracelets also seem to occur only in even numbers or pairs in English hoards. The significance of this pairing is heightened by the few burials we have associated with bracelets. Of the four burials that are accompanied by bracelets, three of these consist of pairs.

Pins are also subject to depositional planning. Although they are occasionally found in hoards, they generally seem to be systematically excluded from these contexts. In fact, they are the only type of object that are more common on settlements than in hoards, and are the only metal object that you might realistically expect to find during the excavation of a Late Bronze Age settlement. Most of these do seem to be genuine accidental loses on settlements. This suggests that some single finds may in fact come from settlements waiting to be excavated!

All this evidence helps to demonstrate that the metalwork corpus that we have is highly selective. We should not assume that it is representational of the range or quantity of material actually present in the Bronze Age. By in large, the content of each hoard reflects only a part of the specific cultural circumstances that led to its deposition; objects that were not deemed relevant to depositional activities could be indefinitely remelted and recycled and never enter the archaeological record. Due to this, we should not exclude the possibility that some bronze present in modern objects was originally smelted and circulated in the Bronze Age!

Penannular ring from Bradwell, Essex © Trustees of the British Museum

Penannular ring from Bradwell, Essex © Trustees of the British Museum

A large number of objects, especially those of gold, have only recently come to light as part of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (; Murgia and Roberts forthcoming). This has only been possible due to the excellent collaboration that is happening between members of the public, especially metal dectectorists, and archaeologists. Input from the public like this is driving research forward. My catalogue has yet to include the objects in the Bronze Age Index, and no doubt the work undertaken by MicroPasts volunteers to digitalise this resource will enhance our understanding of Bronze Age jewellery. Thank you, and I look forward to seeing the results!

Alex Davies

Cardiff University


Bond, D.  1988.  Excavation  at  the  North  Ring,  Mucking,  Essex:  a  Late  Bronze  Age  enclosure. Chelmsford: East Anglian Archaeology 43.

Murgia, A. and Roberts, B. W. forthcoming. ‘What have metal-detectorists ever done for us? Discovering Bronze Age Gold in England and Wales.’ Archeologische Korrespondenzblatt

Roberts, B. W. 2007. ‘Adorning the Living but Not the Dead: Understanding Ornaments in Britain c.1400-1100 cal BC.’ Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 73. 137-67.

Posted in Research

PhD project – Analysis of Middle Bronze Age Palstaves

Hi everyone. My name is Robert Kaleta and I am a 1st year PhD student at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, interested in using some of the data generated via the MicroPasts photo-masking applications for my research. For the next 3 years I will be looking very closely at various aspects of the Middle Bronze Age (MBA) metalwork with particular focus on palstaves. Metal artefacts are crucial to our understanding of the Bronze Age, and the ‘palstave’ is one of the period’s most well-known and widely-distributed forms. Analysis of prehistoric metal finds reveals not only technological aspects of production but also wider relationship between metal, metalworkers and prehistoric societies. I am hoping to use the metalwork as an indicator of various social and economic processes occurring during that time, through which the social organisation of Bronze Age communities across Britain can be explored. The project itself will employ a range of techniques, such as point pattern analysis, chemical composition analysis, and geometric morphometrics, to synthesise the existing data and generate new information. Point pattern analysis allows us to understand the spatial relationship between data points, i.e. whether they tend to congregate or not, and at what scales, which can be a useful indicator of the layout of the Bronze Age communities. This approach, when combined with chemical composition analysis can also shed light on metal circulation, reuse and trade networks.


The morphometric analysis aspect of the project is particularly important as one of the main aims of my research is to explore the existing typologies of palstaves. Typologies play a crucial role in the study of the British and European Bronze Age. They have been linked to European-wide chronologies; they defined states and social identities, and exposed the extraordinary extent of trade and exchange during the MBA. However the way in which they had been explored in the past was fairly subjective and the methodology difficult to apply to large data sets that are now available. My aim is to achieve more objective shape properties which can be compared across many objects. One of the ways in which I hope to improve our understanding of the extent of palstave shape variability is through the comparison of their 3 dimensional shapes. This method does not focus on any particular features of the palstaves but compares the overall shape across many objects; removing some of the subjectivity that previous approaches exhibited.

I hope to analyse as many palstaves as possible, starting with the objects held by the British Museum, which should keep me busy for some time. As such, I will use all the masks and resulting 3D models created via the MicroPasts crowd-sourcing site including the two latest apps (Burley & Wylye hoards) and some new ones that will be deployed in the upcoming months. I will do my best to keep everyone updated on my progress and share any interesting findings on the blog, in the meantime if you have any questions regarding the use of 3D models in archaeological research or my own PhD project specifically, feel free to contact me here or on the MicroPasts forum.

Ps. Great work on the Bronze Age Index!


Research funded through the London Arts & Humanities Partnership



Posted in Research