24/09/2015

Finders keepers, losers weepers. For the past thousand years, if you happened to stumble across the worldly possessions of someone long since departed you could just keep them. In 1996 this changed under the UK’s Treasure Act. Before you got to cash your cache of Roman coins you needed to take them the local coroner along with where you found them. But to date communicating the precise location of finds has been problematic

Sutton Hoo was found in the middle of a field a kilometre from the nearest town. Finding it again would a description along the lines of ‘Past the big oak tree, about 200 steps east, just over the mound’, or the use of more complex coordinates 52° 5′ 40.841″ N 1° 20′ 30.397″ E

Thankfully, there is an alternative. what3words is a global addressing system. It has divided the world into 3m x 3m squares, each with a unique 3 word address. Now people can refer to any precise location – a delivery entrance, a picnic spot or a drone landing point – using just three words.

It means that every 3m x 3m at Sutton Hoo has a 3 word address and now thanks to an online initiative from the British Museum every other archaeological find in the UK now has a 3 word address.

Finds.org.uk is an online database of over a million objects found in the UK. Funded by the Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport its aim is to record not only what is found but where it was discovered via its network of 36 Finds Liaison Officers. The site charts everything from medieval sword belts and Roman coins to Bronze Age tools and toys. By integrating what3words 2 line code into the site now each and every one of the 1m+ finds have a precise 3 word address.

Get the code on GitHub here.

what3words works in multiple languages, offline with no data connection. The use of words means non-technical people can find any location accurately and communicate it more quickly, more easily and with less ambiguity than any other system. Words can easily be remembered, written, said, printed or shared digitally.

what3words is being used around the world to help make deliveries in the favelas of Brazil, distribute medicine in the townships of South Africa and solar lights in the slums of India.