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22 September 2014

Phase four of the replicas for the new Staffordshire Hoard gallery: The Mystery Object!

Now we get to use the expertise and experience learnt from our earlier collaborations with Birmingham Museums on something really interesting: the famous, or should that be infamous, ‘Mystery Object’!

The mystery object is seen here in the most recent West Midlands History film about the Staffordshire Hoard:

Using skills and techniques developed on the earlier project to reproduce K270 we once again took our laser scanner up to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and ensconced ourselves in the inner sanctum of the conservation department where we were ably aided and abetted by Pieta Greaves (Staffordshire Hoard Conservation Coordinator) who carefully laid out the various components of the ‘Mystery Object’ for us to laser scan. 

The entire hoard laid out in one place (the mystery object is on front left corner).

Luckily for us this was the time of the bringing together of all the constituent and many parts of the hoard and we were fortunate to see the grouping exercise where all 4000 plus fragments and objects of the Hoard laid out in one place. We had to collect the ‘Mystery Object’ from the large table containing all the pieces.

The Mystery Object.

The JIIC team of Keith and Mark then set to laser scanning the various parts of the object. Here they have been working on the button like item that tops the object.

Keith and Mark check the quality of the scan data captured.

We then returned back to the JIIC where Mark continued to process the various data sets collected in order to convert them into CAD files ready for 3D printing. Below is a rendered screen grab of the main component.

Rendered image.

All the other parts were similarly printed and cast as previously described and are now ready for the final stage of preparing the surface finish and colour before adding the simulated garnets.

Other sections of the ‘Mystery Object’

Next we set about solving how to produce the textured foils that are placed behind the garnets to give them some Anglo Saxon ‘bling’ we studied them closely and took advice from the hoard curators who gave us a number of research papers to read about the various ways in which it was felt these foils might have been created. The museum also provided detailed close up images and measurements of the foils, the hatch patterns of which are very, very small indeed!

Close up detail of a foil produced by the Anglo Saxons.

Initially we tried to imitate one of the suggestions that the pattern was embossed into hardened clay and the foil burnished over the marks to create the hatch pattern

Our first attempts at reproducing a foil.

It can be clearly seen that our early attempts were by no means as small or as precisely accurate as the original Anglo Saxon versions so we turned to our technology and used our CAD and 3D printing skills and techniques to produce our own 21st Century ‘Anglo Saxon foil press’.

We printed the foil press in wax.

We then cast it in bronze.

A bit of experimental archaeology later we discovered that placing a small plain copper foil in the press and striking it firmly with a small wooden mallet gave us the desired effect.

The final stage before cutting the patterned foils to size and shape and inserting into the reproduction is to gold plate them.

The gold plated foils.

Early experiments with cutting and placing the foils.

In the next blogs we will continue our look at how the K 270 reproduction will pass through the polishing and finishing processes being researched and applied to the various reproductions being created by the JIIC in collaboration with BMT. We will also begin to follow through the processes and technologies being used in the reproduction of the Pectoral Cross.

Frank Cooper,
JIIC manager.

Funding Appeal

The Staffordshire Hoard could be in your hands!

Help us share the Staffordshire Hoard with people across the UK and the world through the creation of high quality replicas for handling and display.

Your donation means:

  • When the Hoard goes on tour or is being conserved an ‘exact as technically feasible’ copy of star object, the Horse Head, will still be displayed in Birmingham.
  • The creation of replicas for handing sessions and educational programmes, so adults and children can experience the wonder of feeling and holding archaeological objects.
  • Digital capture will allow visualisation of the objects as they would have appeared ‘as new’, allowing researchers to better understand the objects.

The high quality replica will be made here in Birmingham at the Jewellery Industry Innovation Centre (JIIC) part of Birmingham City University.

The JIIC is a unique operation based in the heart of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter and the staff are experts in jewellery manufacturing techniques. They have established expertise with their work on the Cheapside hoard at the Museum of London. Their previous work on the hoard includes the folded cross .

We invite you to donate towards a high quality display replica and educational handling replicas of the famous Horse Head. The project that will cost £5,062.

Go to

Text ‘HORS31 £3’ to 70070

Pay by card by calling 0121 348 8293.

Send a cheque with “Horse Head Replica” on the reverse to:

Development Office, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Chamberlain Square, B1 3DH.

Please make the cheque payable to ‘Birmingham Museums Trust’.

Help to fund high quality replicas for handling and display.

More opportunities to support the Staffordshire Hoard

This Horse Head is the fourth of several replicas we want to create to support gallery displays, education and outreach purposes. The high quality replica of the pectoral cross has been recently funded through a donation by History West Midlands. If your organisation would like to sponsor or fund a replica please contact: Karen Dobson on 0121 348 8017 or email [email protected]