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8 March 2013

Staffordshire Hoard Placement Programme Update

2013 sees the start of another year of student placements. The Hoard programme is committed in providing opportunities for students to gain practical experience in the professional sector. The placements draw on their knowledge and experience from their taught courses, and enable them to gain new skills that will have use in future employment. Each placement encompasses practical conservation as well as written and photographic documentation of the hoard, they also get the chance to participate in the public programme such as the monthly hoard tours to the lab and web blogs.

The programme has been very successful with placements ranging from 2 weeks to 2 months. Since 2010 we have had ten students, two volunteers and five national heritage Ironwork Group blacksmiths working with the objects and developing conservation skills. We have also hosted 10 professional conservators.

The first student placements of this year were Susanne van Leeuwen and Julia Leunge, the project was delighted to have them over the last month. Read all about their experiences below.

Pieta Greaves: Conservation manager

Experiencing the magic Hoard

Suzanne van Leeuwen

Working on the Staffordshire hoard is a magical and educational experience, with the prospect of making small, but new discoveries every day.

My name is Suzanne van Leeuwen and together with my friend and colleague Julia Leunge we would like to share some of our experiences of working on the hoard and introduce ourselves to all of the hoard enthusiasts.

Image 1: A day in the life of a hoard conservator: Suzanne at work conserving and cleaning behind the microscope with some very simple tools.

My interest in conservation started a couple of years ago. I graduated in 2007 from the University of Amsterdam with a MA in Classical Archaeology. I have excavated for ten seasons in the pre-Roman town of Satricum in Lazio, Italy. I effectively was, and maybe still am, a ‘good weather’ archaeologist and after my graduation did not feel the urge to start excavating in rainy Holland due to lack of work in Italy. In 2008 I saw a documentary about the British Museum and saw a conservator working on a Greek bronze; I was sold immediately. Conservation had always lingered in the back of my mind but it was not until 2006 that the programme at the University of Amsterdam became fully developed. In 2009 we started with an obligatory minor in Conservation and I was accepted into the two-year Metals programme the following year. In October 2012 I received my second Masters degree and currently I am enrolled in the two-year post graduate Conservation programme that follows the master.

As part of that post graduate programme we were introduced to the Staffordshire Hoard team by one of our teachers, Janine van Reekum. The last couple of years she has been active on the hoard’s advisory panel and she saw an opportunity for us to gain experience in archaeological conservation of the highest standard!

Image 2: Explaining conservation process to Deborah Cane and Pieta Greaves.

Working on the hoard involves many professionals from different backgrounds and with different interests. Archaeologists, curators and conservators all look at the objects in a specific way and this will enable us to reconstruct the history of the hoard one day. We as conservators make sure that the objects are clean, stable and ready to be studied in the near future. This is a very rewarding, but also tiresome job, and I have the utmost respect for Deborah Magnoler and Cymbeline Storey who have been working non-stop on the hoard for the last two years. It requires a lot of concentration, dedication and patience to work on these objects and I feel that I have developed these skills even more so during this month. After a couple of silver objects we were given a gold one later the first week when we had developed a certain routine in conserving objects. The gold objects are generally more fragile than the silver ones but are also more stable; you have to adjust your working pace accordingly.

The most unique object I have worked on this month must be K362. It is a gold cloisonné strip with garnets, almost all of whom remain in their original position. Although the function of these cloisonné strips are still not entirely clear, maybe this object can help us understand better for it seems to be in one piece. Some of the garnets are missing but that allows us to take a closer look at the golden foils beneath the stones.

Image 3 and 4: A very rewarding job as you can see on these pictures of K362!

Image 3: Gold cloisonné strip with garnets K362 before treatment.

Image 4: Gold cloisonné strip with garnets K362 after treatment.

Julia Leunge

I am Julia, 26 years old, and like Suzanne I am in the post graduate metals conservation program at the University of Amsterdam. My background is in archaeology too, but after seeing an episode of a Dutch TV show equivalent to the Antiques Roadshow explaining the conservation/restoration of an enamel brooch, the idea of becoming a conservator began to take root. (It seems both of us have TV to thank for choosing conservation!).  I chose to specialise in metals conservation because they have always drawn my interest, but it was only after studying them that I began to understand their complexity, the great differences between metals and the way their properties can dramatically change over short or very long periods of time.

Because of the different metals and metal alloys in the hoard, and the fact that they have long been buried in a certain environment, each object regardless of its size and sophistication holds a surprise. A copper alloy fragment may have become dark green and entirely mineralised, while a gold object that may have been next to it appears untouched by time. Personally I have also been intrigued by the various techniques, and therefore the necessary tools the Anglo Saxons must have had. I like to think about the craftsmanship that went into shaping a 4 mm rivet, or the kilometres of beaded wire filigree that must have been produced as well as the huge amount of tiny mushroom shaped garnet inlays.

Image 5: Zoomorphic pattern created by beaded wire.

The last object I have treated has surprised me as well; the interior of this gold sword pommel cap had become filled up with soil, which when carefully removed revealed a copper alloy lining. It was almost like a miniature excavation, where unexpectedly my archaeological skills came in handy.

Image 6. Gold pommel cap K710 before treatment.

Image 7. Gold pommel cap K710 after treatment.

Image 8: Copper alloy lining in K710.

Looking back, these four weeks have flown by and the people at the conservation lab have made us feel very welcome. Thank you Pieta, Deborah, Cymbeline, Natalie and Ciarán for a very pleasant and instructive internship!

Suzanne van Leeuwen and Julia Leunge
Conservation interns