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29 April 2016

One big jigsaw puzzle…Part 1: Flat gilded sheet

So for the last few months we have been pretty quiet as we have been busy completing work so that we may fully catalogue all of the sword related material that is present in the Hoard. Now that is finished, we have been able to turn our hands and heads to the enigma of the many silver and silver gilt fragments we have found in the hoard.

This assemblage consists of hundreds of small to medium sized fragments in different thicknesses. Some of this is gilded on one side and may be either flat or shapely in its appearance. With so many fragments, it is impossible to work out how it relates to any of the other objects, so re-assemblage is needed to make sense of it all.

Figure 1: Some of the Silver- Gilt flat sheet material

So how do you start trying to piece together all of the hundreds of fragments….

Firstly it was a case of identifying similar material in terms of thickness and sometimes visual appearance of the gilded side. This meant that we could tackle the mass of material in much smaller groups and be more successful in finding join edges. Once the material was separated out, we enlisted additional help through our conservation club volunteers….

Figure 2: Susan Hull, Conservation Volunteer

Hello, I’m Susan, Staffordshire Hoard Documentation volunteer. On an average day I work front of house at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and Thinktank as a Museum Enabler. On my days off, I step behind the scenes into the corridors of the Conservation department, where over a year ago I began volunteering, firstly for the Civic Silver Project, before moving to work with the Staffordshire Hoard Project.  I have always had a great interest and respect for objects and the stories they can reveal to us. So far, this project has enabled me to see the most intimate details on the surface of these tiny almost forgotten fragments of metal. The process of joining some of these pieces together gives me great insight and experience in the practise of conservation and is really exciting to see the puzzle growing – I feel incredibly privileged!

Figure 3: Fragments of flat metal sheet

Initially I was given a box, full of little boxes, which contained very small fragments of flat sheet metal. Before anything else, I needed to check the pieces were all numbered and correctly documented. I then began to start joining the pieces that had already been identified as most likely to fit together. This way I learnt what to look for. With the naked eye, it is possible to approximate possible joins – by looking at the shape, thickness, surface colour or deterioration. Then, through the microscope, this can be confirmed if ripped edges align, or if there is a continuation between pieces of tiny surface marks.

For example, in the image below you can clearly see an incision line across the surface of fragments that runs parallel to the edge of the emerging object. As you can see to the left of the image, the position of the breakage has divided a circular piercing, which made it easier to identify the joining piece. The darker colouring or staining also assisted in the identification and reconstruction process.

Figure 4: Parts of the sheet metal reconstructed

As the piece was reconstructed, a corner has begun to reveal itself. The border staining and piercings may indicate the method of attaching the item to something else such as reeded strip. It’s possible that the staining and incised line may indicate the width of the material which was used so we may be able to associate this with some of the reeded strip from the hoard.

Figure 5: Sheet metal with an interesting features – rectangular hole and the straight polishing scratch marks across surface.

The metal in the fragments of Fig. 5 were thicker, and perceptibly heavier, than other fragments I have been looking at. Visually, the colouration seems golden, with darker streaks running parallel to one another. Again, we can see an incision line across the lower fragment. We can also see scratch marks – some look like straight polishing marks, and others appear less purposeful in their creation. Most interesting though, is the emergence of a rectangular hole.

Figure 6: Sheet metal with tool marks

The group of fragments in Fig. 6 have a similar weightiness to those in Fig 5. If you look closely at this final image, the centre fragment reveals some of the makers’ tiny chisel-like tool marks.

Kayleigh Fuller, Staffordshire Hoard Conservator, and Susan Hull, Staffordshire Hoard Documentation Volunteer