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5 February 2013

New faces and new finds

It is the fourth week of our 3 month journey into the world of the Staffordshire Hoard, and I can’t speak for my colleagues but its true what they say, time flies when you’re having fun. The weeks are passing at an alarming speed as we spend each day making new and consistently exciting discoveries as we micro-excavate the hoard artefacts. My name is Ciarán Lavelle and along with Natalie Harding, we have come to Birmingham to help the current team to conserve and analyse the remaining hoard artefacts that are awaiting their turn to undergo treatment, reveal their secrets and spend their 15 minutes in the limelight. Joining us as the faces on the hoard team is the new project manager Pieta Greaves.

The Conservation Team

Conservation Team – clockwise from back Cymbeline Storey, Pieta Greaves, Deborah Magnoler, Ciarán Lavelle and Natalie Harding

Natalie and I come from different conservation training programs and found our way to conservation through different paths:

Natalie initially trained in Gold and Silversmithing in Australia and her interest in working with precious metals brought her to England to seek training specifically in metals conservation.  Natalie completed her conservation training at West Dean College, West Sussex, where she specialised in Metals Conservation and in 2010 she completed the MA in Conservation Studies.  Since completing the MA, Natalie has been employed as a professional conservator and has also completed an internship at the National Maritime Museum in London.  This relatively new venture into archaeological conservation is a great opportunity to gain new skills and to adapt to a new size of working.

I trained as an archaeologist at Queens University, Belfast in Northern Ireland and worked as a professional archaeologist throughout Ireland for over a year after I graduated. But it wasn’t until a few years after this that I discovered conservation which led me to return to university to study for a BSc in ‘Object Conservation for Museums and Archaeology’ at Cardiff University from 2008 to 2010 and again from 2011 to 2012 where I graduated with a MSc in ‘Professional Conservation’. Since I have started on my career as a conservator I have been lucky to gain experience as an object conservator on internship schemes at the Transport Museum in Glasgow and at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Greece on the Agora excavations in the ancient heart of the city of Athens. I have built on this experience with professional contracts at Bristol Museum, where I helped to prepare for the opening of the exciting Museum of Bristol and at the Science Museum, London, where I was charged with job of beginning preparations for the new Treasury Gallery exhibition.

We both have two different training and experience which complements and add to the current team with Natalie’s gold-smith and metals conservation experience and with my own archaeological excavation and archaeological and non-archaeological object conservation experience.

We have been welcomed warmly into the existing hoard team, Deborah and Cymbeline, and Birmingham museum collections care team and thankfully settled in quickly. After our introduction to the team and induction training we were happy to receive our first objects to conserve and got started straight away. The hoard artefacts are all unique and exciting to work and it is difficult to choose one that stands out, but there have been a few that have piqued my interest and so far have been exciting challenges to work on.

One in particular is one piece designated as K295, it is a hilt plate used to decorate the cross on the handle of an Anglo-Saxon sword. The hilt plate was covered with soil from the burial environment; what made this object of particular interest to me was the amount of other objects and fragments that were found within the soil surrounding the hilt plate that may or may not be associated with the plate originally. For example the soil contained a boss decoration, two rivet ends that have been broken off of a pommel cap, a fragment of filigree, a silver rivet and multiple fragments of gold, silver and copper metal strips. I like to think of these pieces as my own personal archaeological Kinder Surprises as you never know what you are going to find until you start the conservation process.  Once you reveal your surprise it presents us a whole new set of surprises and riddles which we try to make sense of and connections between the objects in the hoard so as to bring the world of the Anglo-Saxons into the light and reveal their story.

The hilt plate before conservation containing the hidden objects

K295. The hilt plate before conservation, with the soil containing all the hidden objects

The hilt plate after conservation treatment

K295. The hilt plate after conservation treatment

Metal pieces in soil during treatment

Metal pieces including one of the pommel cap fragments in soil during treatment

A collection of metal fragments from the soil

A collection of metal fragments from the soil

A decorative boss

A decorative boss used to decoarate objects and to hide rivets underneath 

Two fragments from a pommel cap

Two fragments from a pommel cap, the one on the left still retains its original tivets

I truly look forward everyday to the next object to view under the microscope and to the next archaeological mystery that the hoard continually provides. With an upcoming week long trip to the Stoke Museum to work on the Staffordshire Hoard collections there and with the welcoming of two conservation interns from the Netherlands, Julia and Susanne, to the hoard team the month of February is promising to be as exciting and eventful as January.

Ciaran Lavelle,
Hoard Conservator