Accredited Archaeological Conservator. MSc in Built Environment: Sustainable Heritage, UCL; Trained as Conservator at UCL, Inst. of Archaeology 1981-1984. Worked at American Museum of Natural History, NY; Museum of London 1986-1996; freelance and director of AMTec Co-op Ltd 1997- present. . On-site conservation projects have included sites in UK, Turkey, UAE and the Ukraine. Concentrating on interface between heritage science and art and community issues.

Looking at Phytolyths in experimental plant fibres – building a reference library at CSI

At the end of the day I am reviewing some of the SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) images I took of some experimental vegetable fibres – looking at plant structures and phylolyths (silica crystals that are taken up by plants and often survive in archaeological soils after the organic material has long decayed.  We are interested in these at the CSI lab because we are wondering if we might find these preserved in corrosion products, alongside or in addition to the mineralised organic remains we often find.

We are trying to build up reference images that we can refer to as we investigatively clean the Anglo-Saxon artefacts from the Meads cemetery in Sittingbourne.  On a day that we spent largely focused on how to find funding for our project, it is nice to end with some thoughts on what types of evidence we might find at our microscopes and how we are going about teaching ourselves, the volunteers, and general public about archaeological science.  We are very lucky to have a SEM at our shopping mall lab, and we are building up a reference library of structures and characteristics that might help us identify materials we find during our conservation work.

10176172_10152433063786320_5953964806659239151_nwillow crystals x1000

experimental fibre made from chestnut bast

experimental fibre made from chestnut bast

phytolyths on experimental bramble fibre

phytolyths on experimental bramble fibre

phytolyths on experimental nettle fibre

phytolyths on experimental nettle fibre

Anglo-Saxon CSI: Sittingbourne (Conservation Science Investigations)

Happy Archaeology Day 2014 !! As director of a non-profit heritage organisation (AMTeC Co-op Ltd), and manager of a community volunteer project (Anglo-Saxon CSI: Sittingbourne), today I have been attending an event run by Diversity House – a social change organisation based in Swale, Kent: #Supporting Women in the Workplace. The event was attended by local and regional councillors, MPs, the mayor and offered inspirational talks by kent’s Police & Crimes Commissioner, Ann Barnes; Debra Allcock-Tyler (CEO of the Directory of Social Change); and Tracey Crouch, MP for Chatham and Alyesford. I made contact with the local job centre ‘employment advisor’ about how we might work together to recognise the transferable skill sets that CSI volunteers gain through our archaeology project; and I attended very useful sessions on business development and HMRC/tax mentoring. This is the 5th day in as many weeks that I have taken to attend an event designed to inform myself about business skills, funding opportunities, and networking for the role of heritage in the regional and community context. While I have never really felt personally disadvantaged as a woman working within archaeology, it was interesting to hear statistics on the subject and receive sound advice, applicable to anyone. I feel more disadvantaged by the fact that I work within a ‘niche’ industry… but actually, archaeology has so much public appeal and opportunities to bring enjoyment, knowledge and skills development to all sectors of society – its niche realm is actually it’s greatest strength… so I am grateful to Diversity House for putting on an event that hopefully has brought me a little bit closer to getting our doors open again – and me, getting back to what I do and love best of all – working with people, investigating and conserving ancient materials. …will try and find a moment to post on some recent new discoveries at the ‘conservation bench’ a bit later today; otherwise, anyone wanting to catch up with the Anglo-Saxon CSI: Sittingbourne project can find us @CSIsitt or on facebook:

An Interlude About a Roman Lead Scroll

I received a call on the morning of Day of Archaeology from the PR officer from KAS about a recent find that they are funding me to conserve for the Maidstone Archaeological Group. It has recently been translates by Roger Tomlin in Oxford. there are two columns of seven names each. This discovery will be published in Britannia and KAS is working on a press release for it. It had gone to Switzerland for neutron tomography, because we were hoping to read it without having to unroll it. Unfortunately, this the method was not conclusive (this time – an earlier experiment had been successful), , so it has been unrolled, although quite fragile and now needs a supportive backing.

Drawing by Roger Tomlin of Maidstone Archaeology Group’s Roman lead scroll


CSI: Sittingbourne Volunteers & Their Tools

Adapting ‘pin vices’:

Janine and I discussed her progress on investigative conservation of one of the Grave 111 shield studs She has brought in thorns from her garden to use for careful cleaning of the soil and corrosion around the shaft of the stud – this area has mineral preserved wood, reflecting the shield board itself. We got the idea of using thorns after watching conservation work on the Staffordshire Hoard.  Janine feels more comfortable with the softness of her thorn pin vice.

Janice was working in the afternoon on a spearhead from Grave 111, she prefers to use a very fine needle pin tool, that she made herself and brings with her for her sessions, when she is working on an object with fragile or intricate details (eg. mineral preserved textiles).


A volunteer’s tool and X-ray of spearhead from Grave 111

CSI conservation volunteer Janine working on a shield stud from Grave 111



A Day at the Shopping Mall CSI lab (Conservation Science Investigations)

A bit of an introduction and general update:

I am the conservation manager at “Anglo-Saxon CSI:Sittingbourne” [ / facebook / @CSIsitt], we reported from the lab last year and are very pleased to be taking part in Day of Archaeology again…

Our project has had some periods of closure due to lack of funding over the past year, and we are in the midst of a fundraising campaign at the moment and seeking out new ways to fund conservation of the 2nd half of the Meads cemetery; as well as expand and take forward the CSI shopping mall lab concept. We are open 10-4 Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at the moment, and possibly might add Saturdays for July and August. Although we had to stop conservation work for a large part of last year, work on recording the large bead assembly, and reviewing the results of the conservation work took place, and the Assessment Report for Meads II is with the Canterbury Archaeological Trust editors and hopefully out soon. I shall be away for most of the next 2 months (family illness and then conserving on site for Rutgers University Dig in the Upper Sabina Tiberia Valley, Italy). So today we started to confirm plans to ‘down scalpels’ and carry out a further review of the conservation work and invite volunteers and visitors to attempt reconstructions of our grave groups while I am away. We also need to compile a list of research questions we may have about materials we might want to investigate further, with the portable Hitachi Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) that is coming to the lab soon – thanks to a generous scientific equipment grant that has recently been awarded to Oxford University (RLAHA) for the CSI project and general conservation use, by the Clothworkers’ Foundation.

Our partners, Sittingbourne Heritage Museum have counted well over 18,000 visitors to date; and last summer’s count of conservation volunteer hours topped 5,000 !!

The morning’s activities:

Heritage Studies MA student Vicky Price interviewing artist Rob Bloomfield about his work with CSI.


Volunteer Vicky Price (Heritage Studies [contemporary practice] Kingston University, MA student] and I discussed her work on shield studs from grave 111, and her main task for the day – her desire to interview me and our resident artist, Rob Bloomfield for our views on the relationship between art & science in our work, and processes of how we are working with the CSI project, for her dissertation (working title: “Narrative, craft and the investigative conservator”)

Vicky’s interview with Rob then turned into a larger discussion about authenticity vs. creativity in his drawings and also his observations that the work of the investigative conservator is a bit like that of a sculptor, but at opposite ends of the spectrum… and he came up with the term “intricate deconstruction”. It is great to have such a wide mix of people involved with this conservation project… and really great to have Rob’s fabulous range of illustrations – today he was sketching ideas for a poster to advertise summer workshops and this also resulted in a possible new T-shirt design, an Anglo-Saxon Warrior (We have an unusually high proportion of warrior graves at our site)… unfortunately, the sword ended up looking more Roman than Anglo-Saxon, so this is not the final copy – it is an interesting and sometimes tricky collaboration… Rob is an unemployed artist, and this is his first experience working with a professional archaeological project.

Rob’s sketches for designing a poster advertising summer workshops “Hands on the Past”

Rob’s Anglo-Saxon Warrior drawing (although sword and scabbard should be longer)

Anglo-Saxon CSI: Sittingbourne (Conservation Science Investigations)

CSI Volunteer Richard Senior's raw gold and garnets

Investigative conservation of Anglo-Saxon grave goods

The X-raydiograph shows copper, iron and bone - decorations sewn onto a tunic perhaps?

Conservation volunteer Pat at the microscope

Today I have been supervising some of my volunteers and speaking to visitors at our shopping mall conservation lab. We have been running for nearly two years and have just reached 5,000 volunteer hours for investigative conservation of several hundred artefacts from 65 graves. We are on the last grave for this project – but there is still the finds from the other half of the cemetery to be worked on. Tomorrow we close our doors for fundraising for that project. fingers crossed that we’ll be open again soon! For general info on our community conservation project see a great video made on our opening day – and/or visit our website – you can also ‘befriend’ us if you like as we just set up a facebook page too. Volunteer Pat Horne says: ” Today I am working on an object that is really perplexing. It is a ‘blocklifted’ assemblage of finds from a woman’s grave. I am trying to discern the different materials it is made from (we have found mineral preserved bone and textile, possibly leather iron and copper alloy). It has become very fragile, so I am repackaging it to make it more secure before continuing to work on it. this artefact has to be looked at along with others in this grave. There are several with the same ‘figure 8’ copper alloy shapes. so imagination is working overtime trying to puzzle it out – great stuff!” .

Janice Monday is also working on a find from a woman’s grave: “I am working on a small object which, from the X-ray, appears to be minute thin pieces of wire bundled through a loop possibly of bone. there are three more baffling pieces associated with the main part.”

Both Pat and Janice have been volunteering at CSI: Sittingbourne since we began in Oct. 2009 (2 and 1 days per week). We have recently begun training a new group of volunteers (there were 80 on our waiting list!) – one of our new recruits has just returned from panning for gold in Northern Scotland… he popped in to show me some of the gold and garnets he came back with. I didn’t know that garnets were sometimes found alongside gold, when panning – we decided we should look out what is known about the sources of gold and garnets in the Anglo-Saxon period and I encouraged Richard to join the Historical Metallurgy Society to find out more about those iron age camps located at his ‘gold hot spots’ that he was wondering about. We also discussed him posting up his photos to our facebook page and staying in contact while we are closed for fundraising.

– Another day draws to a close at CSI, now on to other tasks, like writing a reference for a past conservation student intern and submitting a paper for publication in the proceedings from PARIS4, Copenhagen… that’s about my conservation work on an early Christian monastery on Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, but that’s another story…