How satellites are mapping our ancient past
Satellites using infra-red imaging are disclosing hidden archaeological treasures such as entire ancient Egyptian cities
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 25 May 2011 20.00 BST
Archaeologist Sarah Parcak says she has discovered thousands of ancient sites in Egypt, from pyramids to a detailed street plan of the city of Tanis, an A-to-Z of the region's northern capital – all thanks to images from satellites orbiting 400 miles above the Earth. The infra-red pictures are capable of tracing structures buried deep in the sand. "It just shows us," she adds, "how easy it is to underestimate both the size and scale of past human settlements."
Parcak had studied at Cambridge and taught in Swansea before returning to the US, where she is now at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her special interest is analysing satellite images for unseen archaeological remains, and she's on to a winner. In theory there's not much you can see from a satellite that you can't from an aeroplane – and with today's technologies, there is a very great deal you can find from both. But in practice, the satellites, with publicly available image libraries, score in reduced cost and in reaching inaccessible areas, such as Egyptian deserts, Easter Island . . . and Wales.
Wales? In 2009 a stone-walled ancient fish trap was spotted on Google Earth in the Teifi estuary. The ancient landscape of Britain is laid out before us as never before. One of the first archaeological satellite studies showed prehistoric earthworks near Stonehenge; these had already been mapped, but we make real discoveries as we tour the globe.
In the near east and in Siberia, 3D images are helping to understand remote landscapes and archaeological sites. The roads on which the statues were moved across Easter Island have now been mapped. And in Peru vast ancient "geoglyphs" have been seen, land art in the form of animal shapes created when people moved earth and stones about. The last is a warning. Last year Amelia Carolina Sparavigna, a physicist in Turin, claimed to see birds and snakes outlined in the sinuous walls and field boundaries of ancient landscapes around Late Titicaca. These designs would never have been visible from the ground, and even from above require much faith as you pick along one wall and ignore many others to end up with a very wobbly looking fauna (mysteriously including a hedgehog).
Satellites are powerful tools. At the end of the day, though, you still need to get down on your knees before you can be really sure what you are seeing.
Egyptian pyramids found by infra-red satellite images
25 May 2011 Last updated at 00:32
By Frances Cronin
Seventeen lost pyramids are among the buildings identified in a new satellite survey of Egypt.
More than 1,000 tombs and 3,000 ancient settlements were also revealed by looking at infra-red images which show up underground buildings.
Initial excavations have already confirmed some of the findings, including two suspected pyramids.
The work has been pioneered at the University of Alabama at Birmingham by US Egyptologist Dr Sarah Parcak.
She says she was amazed at how much she and her team has found.
"We were very intensely doing this research for over a year. I could see the data as it was emerging, but for me the "Aha!" moment was when I could step back and look at everything that we'd found and I couldn't believe we could locate so many sites all over Egypt.
"To excavate a pyramid is the dream of every archaeologist," she said.
The team analysed images from satellites orbiting 700km above the earth, equipped with cameras so powerful they can pin-point objects less than 1m in diameter on the earth's surface.
Infra-red imaging was used to highlight different materials under the surface.
Ancient Egyptians built their houses and structures out of mud brick, which is much denser than the soil that surrounds it, so the shapes of houses, temples and tombs can be seen.
"It just shows us how easy it is to underestimate both the size and scale of past human settlements," says Dr Parcak.
And she believes there are more antiquities to be discovered:
"These are just the sites [close to] the surface. There are many thousands of additional sites that the Nile has covered over with silt. This is just the beginning of this kind of work."
BBC cameras followed Dr Parcak on her "nervous" journey when she travelled to Egypt to see if excavations could back up what her technology could see under the surface.
In the BBC documentary Egypt's Lost Cities, they visit an area of Saqqara (Sakkara) where the authorities were not initially interested in her findings.
But after being told by Dr Parcak that she had seen two potential pyramids, they made test excavations, and they now believe it is one of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt.
An infra-red satellite image reveals the city of Tanis
But Dr Parcak said the most exciting moment was visiting the excavations at Tanis.
"They'd excavated a 3,000-year-old house that the satellite imagery had shown and the outline of the structure matched the satellite imagery almost perfectly. That was real validation of the technology."
The Egyptian authorities plan to use the technology to help - among other things - protect the country's antiquities in the future.
During the recent revolution, looters accessed some well-known archaeological sites.
"We can tell from the imagery a tomb was looted from a particular period of time and we can alert Interpol to watch out for antiquities from that time that may be offered for sale."
She also hopes the new technology will help engage young people in science and will be a major help for archaeologists around the world.
"It allows us to be more focused and selective in the work we do. Faced with a massive site, you don't know where to start.
"It's an important tool to focus where we're excavating. It gives us a much bigger perspective on archaeological sites. We have to think bigger and that's what the satellites allow us to do."
"Indiana Jones is old school, we've moved on from Indy. Sorry, Harrison Ford."
The BBC Satellite Project
By Zahi Hawass
I was very pleased to be involved with this project, which will be aired in a television program called Egypt’s Lost Cities. Unfortunately, however, an inaccurate article about it was prematurely released, even before the BBC’s press release was checked by my Ministry.
According to Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA) regulations, it is prohibited for anyone to announce a discovery before notifying and obtaining the approval of the Ministry first. This procedure is in place to ensure that any discoveries people want to announce are real and have been officially verified. If every mission authorized to carry out work in Egypt was allowed to announce things without them being checked first, there could potentially be lots of false claims made all the time.
Sadly, this was the case with the BBC. I am disappointed that not only was the report published without the approval of the MSA, but also that its announcement was not accurate, showing how important it is to follow the proper protocol. The draft press release reported that 17 new pyramids and thousands of ancient Egyptian settlements have been discovered by the University of Alabama using infrared satellite images and that the last major pyramid find was made over 20 years ago.
Although satellite imaging is useful for discovering new sites and monuments, interpretation of the images is not straightforward. No one can say with certainty that the features displayed under the sand are actually pyramids. Such anomalies could be houses, tombs, temples, pyramids, buried cities or even geological features. The only way we can definitely identify what is there is by excavating it - by investigating it physically. This was not made clear in the article.
A few months ago, satellite images of the necropolis of Saqqara South revealed the existence of three substantial anomalies. Archaeological inspection revealed that they are the remains of three pyramids previously excavated by the French Egyptologist, Gustave Jéquier (1868-1946). Among these three pyramids is one belonging to a 13th Dynasty king, Khendjer (c. 1764-1759 BC).
In addition, over the last 20 years two new pyramids have been discovered by archaeological teams led by me in Giza and Saqqara. The first was found beside Khufu’s pyramid in Giza (c. 2551-2528 BC) and the second is next to Teti’s pyramid in Saqqara (c. 2323-2291 BC). The base of a new pyramid at Saqqara has also been found, of an unknown owner, which we are still excavating.
Both the head of the mission, Dr Sarah Parcak, and the producer of the BBC Satellite Project, Mr Harvey Lilley, have expressed their regret about the situation.
The MSA is the government department responsible for protecting the countries’ antiquities. I hope that all news agencies will remember to check the facts regarding new discoveries in Egypt with the Ministry, to ensure that they do not mislead the public.
For regular updates please follow my official Facebook page http://tinyurl.com/3mm7acq and Twitter feed https://twitter.com/#!/ZahiHawass.
Posted on Saturday, May 28, 2011.
Further information: Queen’s Pyramid Discovered at Saqqara
The Djedi Team Robot
Site Management at Giza
External information: The BBC’s 'Egypt’s Lost Cities' show
Zahi Hawass's blog
PYRAMID-EXPLORING ROBOT REVEALS HIDDEN HIEROGLYPHS
Written in red paint, the symbols may help Egyptologists figure out why mysterious shafts were built into the pyramids.
By Rossella Lorenzi
Thu May 26, 2011 12:15 PM ET
A robot explorer sent through the Great Pyramid of Giza has begun to unveil some of the secrets behind the 4,500-year-old pharaonic mausoleum as it transmitted the first images behind one of its mysterious doors.
The images revealed hieroglyphs written in red paint that have not been seen by human eyes since the construction of the pyramid. The pictures also unveiled new details about two puzzling copper pins embedded in one of the so called "secret doors."
Published in the Annales du Service Des Antiquities de l'Egypte (ASAE), the images of markings and graffiti could unlock the secrets of the monument's puzzling architecture.
"We believe that if these hieroglyphs could be deciphered they could help Egyptologists work out why these mysterious shafts were built," Rob Richardson, the engineer who designed the robot at the University of Leeds, said. The study was sponsored by Mehdi Tayoubi and Richard Breitner of project partners Dassault Systèmes in France.
Built for the pharaoh Cheops, also known as Khufu, the Great Pyramid is the last remaining wonder of the ancient world.
The monument is the largest of a family of three pyramids on the Giza plateau, on the outskirts of Cairo, and has long been rumored to have hidden passageways leading to secret chambers.
Archaeologists have long puzzled over the purpose of four narrow shafts deep inside the pyramid since they were first discovered in 1872.
Two shafts, extend from the upper, or "Kings Chamber" exit into open air. But the lower two, one on the south side and one on the north side in the so-called "Queen's Chamber" disappear within the structures, deepening the pyramid mystery.
Widely believed to be ritual passageways for the dead pharaoh's soul to reach the afterlife, these 8-inch-square shafts remained unexplored until 1993, when German engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink sent a robot through the southern shaft.
After a steady climb of 213 feet from the heart of the pyramid, the robot came to a stop in front of a mysterious limestone slab adorned with two copper pins.
Nine years later, Hawass explored the southern shaft on live television. As the world held its breath, a tomb-raiding robot pushed a camera through a hole drilled in the copper pinned door -- only to reveal what appeared to be another door.
The following day, Hawass sent the robot through the northern shaft.
After crawling for 213 feet and navigating several sharp bends, the robot came to an abrupt halt in front of another limestone slab.
As with the Gantenbrink door, the stone was adorned with two copper pins.
"I dedicated my whole life to study the secrets of the Great Pyramid. My goal is to finally find out what’s behind these secret doors," Zahi Hawass, Egypt's Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, told Discovery News in a recent interview.
In the attempt to solve the mystery, Hawass established the Djedi project, a joint international-Egyptian mission, which he named after the magician who Khufu consulted when planning the layout of this pyramid.
"I selected the Djedi team during a competition that I coordinated to pick the best possible robot to explore the shafts in the Great Pyramid," Hawass said.
The winning robot, designed by Leeds University, has indeed gone further than anyone has ever been before in the pyramid.
The project began with the exploration of the southern shaft, which ends at the so called "Gantenbrink’s door."
The robot was able to climb inside the walls of the shaft while carrying a "micro snake" camera that can see around corners.
Unlike previous expeditions, in which camera images were only taken looking straight ahead, the bendy camera was small enough to fit through a small hole in a stone "door," giving researchers a clear view into the chamber beyond. It was at that time that the camera sent back images of 4,500-year-old markings.
"There are many unanswered questions that these images raise," Richardson told Discovery News. "Why is there writing in this space? What does the writing say? There appears to be a masonry cutting mark next to the figures: why was it not cut along this line?" Roberston wondered.
The researchers were also able to scrutinize the two famous copper pins embedded in the door to the chamber that had only ever been glimpsed from the front before.
"The back of the pins curve back on themselves. Why? What was the purpose of these pins? The loops seem too small to serve a mechanical purpose," Richardson said.
The new information dismisses the hypothesis that the copper pins were handles, and might point to an ornamental purpose.
"Also, the back of the door is polished so it must have been important. It doesn't look like it was a rough piece of stone used to stop debris getting into the shaft," project mission manager Shaun Whitehead, of the exploration company Scoutek UK, said.
The Djedi robot is expected to reveal much more in the next months.
The device is equipped with a unique range of tools which include a miniature "beetle" robot that can fit through a 19 mm diameter hole, a coring drill, and a miniaturized ultrasonic device that can tap on walls and listen to the response to help determine the thickness of the stone.
The next step will be an investigation of the chamber's far wall to check whether it is another door, as suggested in the 2002 live exploration, or a solid block of stone.
"Then we are going to explore the northern shaft," Richardson said.
The team has committed to completing the work by the end of 2011. A detailed report on the findings is expected to be published in early 2012.
Mysterious markings discovered at Great Pyramid of Giza
By Nuala Calvi, for CNN
London, England (CNN) May 28, 2011 -- Updated 0943 GMT (1743 HKT)
A robot explorer has revealed ancient markings inside a secret chamber at Egypt's Great Pyramid of Giza.
The markings, which have lain unseen for 4,500 years, were filmed using a bendy camera small enough to fit through a hole in a stone door at the end of a narrow tunnel.
It is hoped they could shed light on why the tiny chamber and the tunnel -- one of several mysterious passages leading from the larger King's and Queen's chambers -- were originally built.
The markings take the form of hieroglyphic symbols in red paint as well as lines in the stone that may have been made by masons when the chamber was being built.
According to Peter Der Manuelian, Philip J. King Professor of Egyptology at Harvard University, similar lines have been found elsewhere in Giza. "Sometimes they identify the work gang (who built the room), sometimes they give a date and sometimes they give guidelines to mark cuttings or directional symbols about the beginning or end of a block," he said.
"The big question is the purpose of these tunnels," he added. "There are architectural explanations, symbolic explanations, religious explanations -- even ones relating to the alignment of the stars -- but the final word on them is yet to be written. The challenge is that no human can fit inside these channels so the only way to do this exploration is with robots."
Pictures of the markings have been published in the Annales du Service Des Antiquities de l'Egypte, the official publication of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, following an international mission led by the Minister for Antiquities.
The robot explorer that took the images is named Djedi, after the magician whom Pharaoh Khufu consulted when planning the layout of the Great Pyramid. It was designed and built by engineers at the University of Leeds, in collaboration with Scoutek UK and Dassault Systemes, France.
Although robots have previously sent back pictures from within the pyramid's tunnels, Djedi's creators say it is the first to be able to explore the walls and floors in detail, rather than just take pictures looking straight ahead, thanks to a "micro snake" camera.
The camera also scrutinized two copper pins embedded in the door to the chamber at the end of the tunnel. In a statement, Shaun Whitehead, of Scoutek UK, said: "People have been wondering about the purpose of these pins for over 20 years. It had been suggested that they were handles, keys or even parts of an electrical power plant, but our new pictures from behind the pins cast doubt on these theories.
"We now know that these pins end in small, beautifully made loops, indicating that they were more likely ornamental rather than electrical connections or structural features. Also, the back of the door is polished so it must have been important. It doesn't look like it was a rough piece of stone used to stop debris getting into the shaft."
The team's next task is to look at the chamber's far wall to check whether it is a solid block of stone or another door.
"We are keeping an open mind and will carry out whatever investigations are needed to work out what these shafts and doors are for," said Whitehead. "It is like a detective story, we are using the Djedi robot and its tools to piece the evidence together."
Population genetics reveals shared ancestries
Public release date: 24-May-2011
Contact: David Cameron
Harvard Medical School
More than just a tool for predicting health, modern genetics is upending long-held assumptions about who we are. A new study by Harvard researchers casts new light on the intermingling and migration of European, Middle Eastern and African and populations since ancient times.
In a paper titled "The History of African Gene Flow into Southern Europeans, Levantines and Jews," published in PLoS Genetics, HMS Associate Professor of Genetics David Reich and his colleagues investigated the proportion of sub-Saharan African ancestry present in various populations in West Eurasia, defined as the geographic area spanning modern Europe and the Middle East. While previous studies have established that such shared ancestry exists, they have not indicated to what degree or how far back the mixing of populations can be traced.
Analyzing publicly available genetic data from 40 populations comprising North Africans, Middle Easterners and Central Asians were doctoral student Priya Moorjani and Alkes Price, an assistant professor in the Program in Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology within the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Moorjani traced genetic ancestry using a method called rolloff. This platform, developed in the Reich lab, compares the size and composition of stretches of DNA between two human populations as a means of estimating when they mixed. The smaller and more broken up the DNA segments, the older the date of mixture.
Moorjani used the technique to examine the genomes of modern West Eurasian populations to find signatures of Sub-Saharan African ancestry. She did this by looking for chromosomal segments in West Eurasian DNA that closely matched those of Sub-Saharan Africans. By plotting the distribution of these segments and estimating their rate of genetic decay, Reich's lab was able to determine the proportion of African genetic ancestry still present, and to infer approximately when the West Eurasian and Sub-Saharan African populations mixed.
"The genetic decay happens very slowly," Moorjani explained, "so today, thousands of years later, there is enough evidence for us to estimate the date of population mixture."
While the researchers detected no African genetic signatures in Northern European populations, they found a distinct presence of African ancestry in Southern European, Middle Eastern and Jewish populations. Modern southern European groups can attribute about 1 to 3 percent of their genetic signature to African ancestry, with the intermingling of populations dating back 55 generations, on average—that is, to roughly 1,600 years ago. Middle Eastern groups have inherited about 4 to 15 percent, with the mixing of populations dating back roughly 32 generations. A diverse array of Jewish populations can date their Sub-Saharan African ancestry back roughly 72 generations, on average, accounting for 3 to 5 percent of their genetic makeup today.
According to Reich, these findings address a long-standing debate over African multicultural influences in Europe. The dates of population mixtures are consistent with documented historical events. For example, the mixing of African and southern European populations coincides with events during the Roman Empire and Arab migrations that followed. The older-mixture dates among African and Jewish populations are consistent with events in biblical times, such as the Jewish diaspora that occurred in 8th to 6th century BC.
"Our study doesn't prove that the African ancestry is associated with migrations associated with events in the Bible documented by archeologists," Reich says, "but it's interesting to speculate."
Reich was surprised to see any level of shared ancestry between the Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Jewish groups. "I've never been convinced they were actually related to each other," Reich says, but he now concludes that his lab's findings have significant cultural and genetic implications. "Population boundaries that many people think are impermeable are, in fact, not that way."
Stirling Castle skeletons show signs of brutal death
27 May 2011 Last updated at 01:47
Tests on the medieval skeletons of five people found buried at Stirling Castle have suggested they suffered "brutally violent" deaths.
Their remains were found along with those of four others during renovations of the castle's royal palace.
Scientists used radiocarbon dating to determine the nine people died between the 13th and 15th Centuries.
Archaeologists believe they probably died in sieges, skirmishes or battles during the Wars of Independence.
Stirling Castle changed hands several times in the wars, sometimes being held by the Scots, other times by the English.
In one case, a man - thought to be aged between 25 and 35 - had 44 fractures on his skull.
The tests, carried out at the University of Bradford, also showed a woman - aged between 36 and 45 - had suffered 10 fractures to the right side of her skull, resulting from two heavy blows.
Neat, square holes through the top of her skull also suggested she had fallen and been killed with a weapon such as a war hammer.
One set of remains, known as Skeleton 190, were from a young man - aged between 16 and 20 - who showed signs of a stab wound in the chest.
He was also struck on the base of his skull, on the jaw, the collarbone and ribs.
The skeletons were buried beneath a lost 12th Century royal chapel, which was excavated as part of Historic Scotland's project to refurbish the castle's 16th Century palace.
Richard Strachan, Historic Scotland's senior archaeologist, said: "The skeletons were a remarkable find and provided an incredibly rare opportunity to learn more about life and death in medieval Scotland.
"The new research has brought some quite incredible results.
"It was unusual for people to be buried under the floor of a royal chapel and we suspected that they must have been pretty important people who died during periods of emergency - perhaps during the many sieges which took place.
"The fact that five of the skeletons suffered broken bones, consistent with beatings or battle trauma, suggests this could be what happened."
The team said it was not certain where the deceased were from, or who they were fighting for.
However, tests so far are consistent with at least some of them being from the Stirling or Edinburgh area.
London’s Underworld Unearthed: The secret life of the Rookery
Tuesday, May 24, 2011 Exhibition News, News
From 2006-08, Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) undertook archaeological excavations on the site of the former St Giles Court, St Giles High Street, London, prior to the construction of the Central Saint Giles development designed by Lorenzo Piano. The area had been a notorious slum during the 18th-19th centuries – the St Giles Rookery – well known in contemporary art and literature for its gin houses and licentiousness.
Criminals, prostitutes and gin soaked alcoholics ‘roosted’ in what were known as ‘rookeries’, separated from the rest of society. St Giles parish was immortalised in Hogarth’s Gin Lane, as the site of London’s most notorious rookery. This small den of narrow streets and alleys were home to a relentless tide of immigrants, sex-workers, thieves and addicts, becoming the epitome of gin fuelled lawlessness and violence so threatening that even the police avoided it for over a century.
Artefacts from the site are now included in an exhibition by the artist Jane Palm-Gold at the Coningsby Gallery. London’s Underworld Unearthed: The secret life of the Rookery which blends original artworks, archaeology and research to bring the St Giles Rookery to life, and to draw parallels between the the 18th century rookery and the modern streets.
Archaeology on display
On display from Museum of London Archaeology will be examples of 18th and 19th-century artefacts which reflect life within the rookery. Pottery and glass artefacts show contemporary types of domestic vessels used in cooking, as ointment pots and sanitary wares, as well as a variety of everyday objects such as a baby’s glass feeding bottle, bone buttons, metal thimbles, a bone needle holder and glass beads. Clay tobacco pipes, glass wine bottles and a ceramic fuddling cup are witness to the small range of pleasures associated with life in the rookery, and the clay and glass marbles are reminders of the number of children living in these quarters.
The exhibition coincides with the publication of the Museum of London Archaeology report on the findings from the Central Saint Giles site: Medieval settlement to 18-/19th century Rookery. Excavations at Central Saint Giles, London Borough of Camden, 2006-08, which is available for £9.
Fuddling Cup - © Museum of London Archaeology - A fuddling cup is a three-dimensional puzzle in the form of a drinking-vessel, made of three or more cups or jugs all linked together by holes and tubes. The challenge of the puzzle is to drink from the vessel in such a way that the beverage does not spill. To do this successfully, the cups must be drunk from in a specific order.
The development of this London suburb from the medieval period to the early 20th century is well illustrated by the excavations. Houses were initially built along the High Street in the mid 16th century and by the 17th century St Giles was at the heart of London and a prosperous suburban expansion. However, by the late 18th century the reputation of St Giles and its housing had declined. The excavation site lay within the southern core of the area known as the ‘rookery’ – a notorious late 18th- and 19th-century slum but from the archaeological evidence it was an area of contrasting lifestyles, households and businesses.
The St Giles rookery, so named because its denizens were packed like roosting birds, is almost unknown today. Later it became the first Irish ghetto, becoming known as ‘The Holy Land’. An early London population of black immigrants, fondly known as ‘St Giles Blackbirds’, also flourished. Authorities were wary of the area, a breeding ground for criminality, while writers and artists were intrigued. After several visits under suitable protection, Charles Dickens used much of what he witnessed in his novels. Into the 20th century, however, the area’s notoriety was forgotten.
The artist Jane Palm-Gold spent six years researching material and sourcing images to recreate the life-stories of its inhabitants. Illustrated display panels first establish the early history of St. Giles, showing its progress from medieval leper hospital to haven for outcasts. More intimate details follow, focusing on domestic life, illustrated by original artefacts recently unearthed. Images of gin cellars and the poverty that accompanied them lead to a display on crime and policing of the quarter, and the danger the area presented.
Throughout the exhibition, free-standing reproductions of beggars inhabit the floor space, sharing territory with today’s onlookers. On the walls, the product of the artist’s unremitting gaze on today’s underworld of St Giles provokes and unsettles even as we make our way through the evocative re-imagining of the past.
This innovative exhibition on show at the Coningsby Gallery from the 17th May 2011 blends original artworks, archaeology and the history of an infamous quarter at the heart of the West End.
The exhibition runs from 17 May until 3 June 2011 at the Coningsby Gallery, 30 Tottenham Street, London, W1T 4RJ. Admission is free
There's medieval gold in them there hills: The stunning array of artefacts found by Britain's amateur archaeologists
By LEE MORAN
Last updated at 4:06 PM on 26th May 2011
Britain is bursting at the seams with ancient buried artefacts - with 250 pieces being found every single day.
A medieval gold ring, a Bronze Age gold bracelet and a set of gold dentures were just three of the 90,146 amateur archaeological discoveries made in 2010.
The British Museum said the 'massive jump' of reported findings by a third was 'testament to the tremendous success' of the government's Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS).
British Museum director Neil MacGregor said: 'The finds reported are changing our understanding of the past.
'They are helping archaeologists learn where people lived and died, and how these finds were used.
'But what is truly exciting is that these finds are being made by the public and not, in most cases, by the archaeologists. It is transforming the archaeological map of Britain.'
PAS, which experts say is 'near enough' unique to Britain, allows metal detector users in England and Wales to dig for artefacts with the full backing of the law.
As long as items are not classed as 'treasure', then detector enthusiasts are able to keep their haul once the objects have been photographed and the find spot revealed.
Treasure finds, which in 2010 was up 10 per cent to 859 items, is deemed to be the discovery of objects containing gold and silver, or hoards of ancient coins.
Treasure is therefore classified differently and its total is not included amongst the 90,146 pieces found.
The PAS initiative, which culture minister Ed Vaizey has declared 'the envy of the world', was launched in 1997 and is managed by the British Museum.
It ultimately allows glittering objects, sometimes of enormous historical value, to be saved for the nation.
The alternative is them being secretly sold on to private collectors and the illegal antiquities market.
The startling array of objects dug up from farmers fields, or found in rivers, range from prehistoric flints, Roman brooches, Anglo-Saxon strap-ends and medieval coins.
Highlights displayed at the British Museum include a stash of late Iron Age solid gold coins, called 'staters', dating from 15 to 20 AD.
The hoard of 840 coins, found by a metal detectorist in south east England, was the largest hoard found in Britain since 1849.
A Roman knife handle depicting a perverted erotic scene involving two males and a female with one of the figures clutching a decapitated head had also been found.
Michael Lewis, deputy head of PAS, said the scheme differed markedly from the 'draconian' way in which excavation is regulated in the rest of Europe.
He said: 'Detecting is banned in most countries and you certainly can't keep what you find.'