The sun is shining and the sea in the bay below is sparkling. I’m sitting at a table of Bronze Age pottery sherds, thinking I may have left my conservator’s heart in Birmingham with the Staffordshire Hoard. My name is Kathy Hall, and I am senior conservator at an archaeological research centre in Crete, Greece. My job usually involves conserving artefacts from the Minoan Civilization (3000 -1100 BCE) but I was fortunate to spent the last two weeks helping to clean pieces from the hoard in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
The first artefact I was given was this unassuming clump of mud. It did, however, have an interestingly heavy weight to it, and a small gleam of gold in the centre:
After careful examination and documentation I began to clean it under the microscope, using a Berberis thorn held in a pin vice and tiny brushes dampened with alcohol. An animal shape began to appear:
And finally became a horse; a decorated terminal from an extravagant helmet last worn almost 1400 years ago. One of the Hoard conservators remembered cleaning an orphaned nose fragment, the jagged break edges of which aligned perfectly to the larger piece.
Job completed! I am very curious to see how much of this helmet will be reconstructed during the next phase of work.
I next cleaned a beautiful gold filigree hilt collar (seen here during and after cleaning), using several different sizes of brush dampened with alcohol, as well as a thorn in a pin vice holder. I had to search for only the thinnest, finest thorns of all for cleaning the very fine filigree detail. In the photo below showing the underside of the artefact you can see how the depth of the filigree was enhanced by depressing the central areas of the design; these appear as raised areas on the back.
Too soon, it was time to return to Crete.
Thank you so much to Pieta, Deborah and Cymbeline for the experience. It was a pleasure to work with you in your extremely well equipment lab.
And now it’s time to return to the Bronze Age. I think I left it in here..
Senior Conservator, INSTAP-SCEC, Pacheia Ammos, Crete, Greece