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4 July 2011

My student placement experience working on the Staffordshire Hoard

Sarah Klopf

Sarah Klopf in the Conservation Studio

My name is Sarah Klopf and I am a student from the University of Applied Sciences in Erfurt, Germany, where I am studying on a four years course on conservation of archaeological objects and handcraft.

I have done internships in the UK before and noticed the advert for conservation student placements for the Staffordshire Hoard Conservation Project during one of these. I had heard about the find in late 2009 and I knew straight away that I had to apply for one of the student placements as working on such high quality objects was a fantastic opportunity.

As an archaeological conservator it is normally really rare to work on a lot of gold objects. Most of the time you have iron or copper alloy which is nice and interesting, but not necessarily as spectacular as some of the objects in the Hoard. Moreover, I saw it as very good experience to develop my skills. I was over the moon when I finally got the possibility to do a four week internship in March 2011.

My work in the conservation studio was very varied. I cleaned and documented two objects from the Hoard and helped with their analysis with a portable XRF-machine. The first object was a garnet decorated, H-shaped ornament. The technique for the garnet decoration is called cloisonné which means that each garnet sits in a tiny cell made of gold. Each garnet has to be cut into shape and is backed with a tiny foil with a waffle like pattern. This enhances the reflection of the light and makes the garnet shine and sparkle.

The second object was a pommel cap which is the end piece of a sword handle. It was also decorated with garnet and moreover with fine gold filigree.

During cleaning (under the microscope) you look at the object quite a lot and it made me really appreciate the amazing craftsmanship. How on earth were they able to produce tiny foils, garnets and wires and put them together in such an amazing way without a microscope?

I also helped with work that surrounds the conservation of the Hoard. For example, with the grouping of objects carried out with the conservators from the British Museum, where the objects were sorted by their likely purpose, such as sword fittings or pressed decorative panels. This included checking accession numbers and updating audit lists at the end of each day. The grouping days were a great opportunity to see and start to understand more about the amazing objects that make up the Hoard. It was also very interesting how a lot of the tiny pieces made sense all of a sudden in the right context.

As the Hoard is very popular we had the BBC in filming a programme with Dan Snow and tours through the conservation studio. I had a lot of fun helping with the filming of short videos for the Conservation video blogs on the Staffordshire Hoard website where I could try myself as a director.

Altogether it was never boring in the studio and I learnt a lot. I gained experience in the conservation of gold objects as well as in areas surrounding this project like liaising with other museum staff, engaging with the curatorial specialists and the public.

I really enjoyed working on some of the stunning objects from the Hoard and together with Deborah, Cymbeline and Deborah from the conservation team.