A Hoard Day’s Work

Come and spend a day with the Staffordshire Hoard Conservators….

Our first task the morning before the museum opened to the public, was to access the cases in the Hoard Gallery and remove some objects we are preparing for catalogue photography.

Removing pommels from the display case
Removing pommels from the display case
Boxing up the objects for safe transit to the conservation studio
Boxing up the objects for safe transit to the conservation studio

Whenever we move fragments to different locations, i.e. from the gallery to the conservation studio, we update our audit lists. The Hoard is displayed across 4 sites – Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery – Stoke-on-Trent, Tamworth Castle and Lichfield Cathedral, which means keeping track of the each of the 4000 fragments is vitally important.

 

WE LOVE LISTS! – A list of fragments which we need to take off display for research purposes
WE LOVE LISTS! – A list of fragments which we need to take off display for research purposes

Next, we made the first of our many daily trips to the Hoard safe to collect some more objects to be worked on.

 

Collecting objects from the safe
Collecting objects from the safe

We are currently in the process of grouping associated fragments, so we can join and rehouse them together. This ensures the pieces are kept together for future study and has the added benefit of reducing storage space.

 

A group of gold and garnet cloisonné hilt collars in their initial storage boxes
A group of gold and garnet cloisonné hilt collars in their initial storage boxes
The group now re-boxed together (with space left for the final pieces of the group)
The group now re-boxed together (with space left for the final pieces of the group)

We finished our Hoard day by hanging out some washing from yesterday’s very muddy Festival of Archaeology….

 

Lizzie Miller & Kayleigh Fuller

#HOARDLIFE

For more information and blogs please visit www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk

 

 

 

Staffordshire Hoard: Festival of Archaeology Event

Over the past 2 days the Staffordshire Hoard team have been running a Festival of Archaeology event to show the public how we learn about archaeological finds from site to exhibition. Great participation from some of our youngest visitors, learning conservation skills and helping us clean some ‘treasure’.

www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk

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Science of the Staffordshire Hoard

My name is Peter Mc Elhinney, and I am the organic materials specialist for the 7th Century Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire Hoard research project. The predominant imagery of the Staffordshire Hoard for many museum visitors is one of gold, garnets and other precious materials. While these materials make up a large proportion of the hoard objects, a small amount of organic materials have survived in the burial environment. Over the past few months I have been using different analytical techniques to better understand the nature of the organic components of the Staffordshire Hoard objects.

Materials like wood, horn, beeswax, animal glue, and calcium carbonate based fillers were employed structurally and decoratively in some hoard objects. Many of these materials would not have been visible when the objects were originally in use, but the nature in which the decorative elements were removed from their host substrates prior to burial exposed these materials, giving our research team extremely privileged access to samples for analysis.

Over the past few days, I have been analysing a large piece of beeswax that appears to have been used as a fill material for the beautiful pommel cap pictured here.

The front of the reconstructed sword pommel (c) Birmingham Museums Trust

The front of the reconstructed sword pommel (c) Birmingham Museums Trust

The analysis involved using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) to characterize the unknown material. In this case the sample was analysed across 16 different places, forming a grid of analysis points as shown in the image below.

Image View

The analysis revealed that beeswax was present at almost all of the 16 analysis points, and an additional protein based material was present at three analysis points.  The section highlighted in blue in the spectra below spans a region in which two protein related absorbance peaks appear. These peaks are known as the amide I and amide II bands, and are typically a good indicator that a sample contains some protein based material.

Spectra

In order to understand the distribution of the protein material across the sample I used the chemical mapping feature of the analysis software to produce the distribution map pictured below.

Chemical Imaging

The map shows the relative distribution of amide I and amide II bands (and therefore the protein content) across the surface of the wax sample. We can see from the map that there is a concentration of protein based material in the lower left hand corner of the map, as indicated by the warmer colours in this region. The map gives some indication that the protein based material is not evenly mixed through the beeswax sample, asking questions about how the fill material was mixed and applied.

Further analysis is required to determine the exact nature of the protein based material, but it may be animal glue which has been added to the molten wax, or possibly propolis or other impurities related to the original hive from which the wax was collected. I’ll be doing more analysis in the weeks ahead to solve this mystery.