The SuALT Project and Its European Relatives

In the past few decades an increased number of archaeological finds found (and reported) by the public, especially hobbyist metal detectorists, has been a phenomenon in many European countries. In order to manage this growing number of archaeological finds, heritage authorities have been developing supplementary tools to respond to these conditions. Many projects have been set up with the objective of developing digital databases for recording archaeological finds made by members of the public. These projects include the public in the recording processes. With that same objective, the SuALT Project is linked to a wider international context of similar projects which have been carried out in other European countries.

To locate SuALT Project better, here we introduce some of these European relative projects, with which the SuALT Project collaborates closely.

Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)

Portable Antiquities Scheme webpage

The aim of Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has been to advance knowledge of history and archaeology. It was created to encourage and to support members of the public to report archaeological finds. Also, to provide information to the public about the correct handling of finds, and their legal obligations. Eventually, PAS led to a standardised comprehensive national system for recording finds covering England and Wales.

The first finds recording was made in 1998. Then, the next year the database went online. Since then, PAS has grown a lot. Now, PAS is supported by the UK’s DCMS (the Department for Culture, Media & Sport), and directed by the British Museum. The staggering number of reported objects is over 1,3 million. The finds data has been used as a resource in over 600 different level research projects. PAS offers to users a large range of support and information, for example guidelines legal obligations, best practice and so on. Also, regional Finds Liaison Officers are a part of PAS to help and support public in recording finds, to provide information, and to advice the best practice. Read more about PAS here.

PAS has been a benchmark project that has guided a development of following archaeological finds recording database projects.

MEDEA in Flanders

MEDEA webpage

Metal detecting as a hobby became legal in Flanders, Belgium, in 2016, although it has been unofficially tolerated before that. Changed legislation has set new requirements for archaeological heritage management in Flanders. Therefore, MEDEA is expected to complement this new situation. MEDEA has an aim to built build a new infrastructure in altered circumstances. The project thus develops new routines to heritage work by engaging metal detector hobbyist, and encouraging them to record their finds.

MEDEA is a collaborative project based at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium. It was initiated 2014, then launched online in the beginning of 2017. MEDEA database is currently in a beta stage, and the development is progressing. At the moment, the database has over 400 reported finds to search and the number is growing. If you are keen to learn more about MEDEA, a recommendation is to read this and this.

PAN – Portable Antiquities of the Netherlands

Homepage of PAN

PAN is a recent platform developed in the Netherlands. As the most recent of these similar European database projects, PAN is a collaboration of numerous partners. It is coordinated by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.  PAN has been initiated in 2016. An online platform has become live in 2017. Already, thousands of finds are recorded in the database.

PAN has already received recognition for being nominated as one of the finalists of open data award in the Netherlands this year.

DIME – Digitale Metaldetektorfund

DIME was initiated in 2016. In Denmark, an attitude and approach towards metal detecting is generally positive and liberal. There are several reasons support this approach, which has been successful in Denmark. The majority of metal detectorists are considered very competent and highly motivated. Thus, their contribution to heritage and archaeological work is valued. Click here to read more.

DIME will go online next year. Users have been in the centre of the development process of DIME. An aim has been to create an easy access database, not only via a stationary computer, but that also can be fluently used on the move. Therefore, recording finds to the database is possible via a mobile device app. This mobile app facilitates recording data in the field, for example, finds location recording is based on GPS coordinates, which are determinated by the phone’s actual location. DIME will an interesting addition to a set of finds recording databases.

Shared objectives

Clearly, every database must adapt to meet legal requirements and policies, and cultural context, also, to respond to required needs and purposes. But, there are similarities in these databases.

First, public participation, is in the center of all these projects, with metal detectorists predominantly represented. Secondly, an open data approach is a common denominator to the databases. Publicly accessible open data to a wider audience is also a question of democratization of archaeology and cultural heritage. Thirdly, the databases are linked by cooperation. Not only metal detectorists/history hobbyists, researchers and heritage professional are in collaboration. Also, the databases aim to have a comparable collaboration with similar databases nationally and internationally.

Here, the SuALT project is in a fortunate situation, in which it closely collaborates with international experts. The Project has the Expert Advisory Panel, which consists of professionals with a firm experience of developing comparable archaeological finds recording databases. With help of this Panel, it is possible to identify successful features and try to avoid pitfalls of the development process of database as advised by the experiences of researchers involved with similar projects.

Kick-off Event at Glims Farmstead Museum

A kick-off event of the project was held at the Glims Farmstead Museum in Espoo. The aim of this get-together was to have a hands-on experience on metal detecting, and at the same time, meet each other, in more informal surroundings. The event included an enthusiastic group of SuALT-project participants from Helsinki University, Aalto University and the National Board of Antiquities, personnel from Espoo City Museum and metal detector enthusiasts. The Glims Museum provided a part of a field for the group to use in metal detecting.

Introduction to metal detecting. SuALT-projektin tutustuminen metallinetsintään Espoossa. Kuva Miikka Haimila.

“This is Metal Detecting”

“Preferably wear rubber boots”, said the invitation of the event. A waterproof kit was really needed. At times, it rained heavily. A muddy gentle slope of the field was slippery under steps. Apparently, changing weather conditions are a mutually understoor experience for metal detectorists and archaeologists. It is something they both have been used to. “This is metal detecting” and “this is archaeology”, could be heard across the field when the rain was pouring down. Regardless of the weather, the metal detectorists introduced equipment and every one of the group could try them out in practice.

What Was Found

For us, seeing metal detecting hobbyists in practice highlighted a user viewpoint and experience in this project. This event brought up a reality in which the developed infrastructure (and its applications) will be used. Using electronic equipment outdoors, in harsh weather conditions, set limitations and requirements for the database in terms of usability and functionality. (For example, how willing is a metal detectorist to take a mobile phone out in the pouring rain with muddy hands?) In addition, metal detectorists are a heterogeneous group. So, to make an accessible, user-friendly database, it would be vital to receive as many metal detectorists as possible to share their opinions of how properties of the database should work, look and so on.

And yes, something was dug up from the ground also. The metal detectors revealed coins from the 70’s, some unidentified metal objects, pieces of glass, bottle tops and an earring.

A find. Löytö. Kuva Miikka Haimila.

Projektin käynnistys Talomuseo Glimsissä

Projekti polkaistiin käyntiin tapahtumalla, joka järjestettiin Talomuseo Glimsissä Espoossa. Kokoontumisen tarkoituksena oli kokeilla käytännössä metallinpaljastimen käyttöä ja samalla tavata muita projektilaisia hieman vapaamuotoisemmassa ympäristössä. Tapahtumassa oli mukana innostunut ryhmä SuALT -projektiin osallistujia Helsingin yliopistosta, Aalto-yliopistosta, Museovirastosta sekä henkilökuntaa Espoon kaupungin museosta ja metallinetsinnän harrastajia. Ryhmä sai käyttöönsä metallinetsintää varten Talomuseo Glimsiltä peltotilkun.

”Tämä on metallinetsintää”

Tapahtumakutsussa luki ”mieluiten kumpparit jalkaan”. Vedenkestävät varusteet olivat todella tarpeeseen, koska päivä oli märkä. Pellon mutainen rinne oli liukas askelten alla. Välillä satoi rankasti. Sadetakkien huppujen alta kuuli sanottavan ”Tämä on metallinetsintää” ja ”tällaista on arkeologia” sateen ropistessa maahan. Vaihtelevat olosuhteet ovat selvästikin yhteistä metallinetsintää harrastaville ja arkeologeille. Kosteasta säästä huolimatta metallinetsijät tutustuttivat ryhmän metallinpaljastimiin ja niiden toimintaan. Kaikki halukkaat pääsivät myös kokeilemaan laitteita ja etsimisen jännitystä.

Metal detectorists. Metallinetsijät. Kuva Miikka Haimila.

Mitä löytyi?

Metallinetsijöiden näkeminen tositoimissa korosti käyttäjänäkökulmaa ja -kokemusta tässä projektissa. Tapahtuma toi hyvin esille todellisuuden, jossa kehitteillä olevaa tietokantaa (ja sen sovelluksia) tullaan käyttämään. Elektronisten laitteiden käyttäminen ulkona karuissakin olosuhteissa asettaa rajoituksia ja vaatimuksia kehitettävän tietokannan käytettävyydelle. (Esimerkiksi kuinka innokkaasti metallinetsijä kaivaa kännykkänsä esille kaatosateessa mutaisilla käsillä?) Lisäksi metallinetsijät ovat moninainen harrastajien joukko. Selkeän ja käyttäjäystävällisen tietokannan luomiseksi olisi tärkeää saada mahdollisimman monen metallinetsintää harrastavan mielipide mm. tietokannan toivotuilta ominaisuuksilta, toiminnoilta sekä miltä sen tulisi näyttää, jotta siitä tulisi toimiva.

Ja kyllä vain, löytöjä kaivettiin maastakin. Metallinpaljastimien avulla löytyi kolikkoja 70-luvulta, joitakin tunnistamattomia metalliosia, lasin paloja, pullonkorkkeja ja korvakoru.

Welcome to the SuALT blog!

Welcome to the new blog for the Academy of Finland-funded project SuALT, which is a consortium project between University of Helsinki, Aalto University and the National Board of Antiquities. We have only just started this exciting new project, so keep checking back for updates as things develop!