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8 November 2013

The silver and silver gilt C-sectioned tubing

The Staffordshire Hoard comprises a number of fragments of a type of tubing that differ in size and manufacture.

An initial separation was made between fragments which are silver gilt (image 1) and those which are made of silver only (image 2).

Collection of silver gilt tubing fragments

Image 1. The collection of silver gilt tubing fragments

Silver tubing fragments

Image 2. Silver tubing fragments

The silver gilt group was found to have suffered damage in the form of fractures and breaks, indicating that the metal was probably partly mineralised and embrittled,  a phenomenon likely to have occurred when it was in the ground.

Some sections also displayed bending, stress marks and creasing, suggesting that perhaps that type of damage occurred when the metal was still flexible and in use. (See largest fragment). Most fragments showed superficial discolouration and dulling of the gilded surface. A number of them have been affected by a grey, voluminous form of silver corrosion: this turned out to be useful when attempting to find matches between fragments.

Finding Joins

A number of things are considered when attempting to reconstruct an object, the shape of the break edges and the morphology of the object itself are some clues we can use. Whether the break appears to be fresh and bright or obscured by dirt and corrosion is another visual help in the association of fragments, as are the colour and texture of the surface and how this has been affected by the burial environment; so we might want to look for patterns of discolouration, patches of characteristic corrosion, surface deposits etc. which might indicate that two or more pieces go together.

The inner, ungilded side of the tubes features multiple deep striations, likely to have been present since manufacture. These have also provided a tool to confirm joins, as they showed as continuing, linear incisions when a match was found (see image 3).

Marks inside

Image 3: Marks inside one of the fragments

Reconstruction is made all the more challenging if the collection is highly fragmented. This is the case for the silver fragments collection (image 2), which has thinner walls and made of a more flexible metal. The fragments have therefore suffered more deformation and the break edges were not well defined. This resulted in not many joins being found.

The gilded collection gave more satisfactory results in that several pieces came together to create long sections of linear tubing and a couple of arched objects (image 4).

The silver gilt fragment after several matches were found

Image 4. The silver gilt fragment after several matches were found.

It is not sure whether the bending on all these arched objects is totally intentional (i.e. they were made in that shape) or is partly due to damage, but the stress marks that appear, for example, on the largest, bent L shaped object are not obviously visible on either of the arches. This may suggest that at least part of the curvature might be intentional. The largest arch features two rivet holes (image 5), suggesting it would have been fastened onto something.

The large arched object is broken into three pieces.

Image 5. The large arched object is broken into three pieces.

 The object showing the supporting frame built during conservation

Image 6. The object showing the supporting frame built during conservation.

Because of the curvature and the rivet holes, the break edges on the reconstructed object were not sufficiently stable and supportive; a solution in the form of a brass wire and Plastazote™ frame was devised. This support could be shaped to follow the curve of the object and the soft Plastazote™ provides a fitted, soft support on the inner side of the tubing. The brass wire was chosen because it was malleable enough to be shaped, but firm enough to provide support and would not spring to pull the components apart. This should keep the object safe and stable while being stored, a more handsome support can be devised if the object is to be displayed.

Possible theories

The purpose of these objects still remains a mystery, there function or what kind of object they were attached to has yet to be studied.

One theory is that they are edging strips from an unknown object. The edging theory has been lent some credit by the discovery of wood within one of the fragments (image 7); while this is the only fragment with this feature, the wood within appears to be shaped to fit the inner side of the tubing and is a bit too snug to have happened there accidentally. The remains of a corroded iron pin inserted in the wood tend to support the theory this is an intentional component of the object.

The inside of this object contains wood

Image 7. K420 – the inner side of this object contains wood.

As the research program continues hopefully we will find a parallel for what these fragments were once attached to, but for the moment they are just one more mystery of the Hoard.

What do you think it could have been?

Deborah Magnoler
Hoard Conservator