Barbican Research Associates

                    providing an integrated post-excavation service for the archaeological community

 

 

Staffordshire Hoard Stage 1

 

 

When we started Stage 1 we had 1776 separate database entries relating to both single items and groups of fragments.  As soon as the X-radiography started, we could see this number was going to increase as more pieces could be seen inside the soil that still obscured many items.  This was before Warwickshire Archaeology had conducted their survey on the newly ploughed field in November 2012 and found the new pieces.  Bryan Alvey has designed us a secure database where we keep all the records, and by the end of the Stage 1 the total number had grown to 2160.  This is likely to increase during the first part of Stage 2 as the die-impressed sheets and reeded strips are worked on. Currently a single database record relating to them can have many fragments from more than one item.

 

The conservation team based at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery cleaned and documented all of the items in the Hoard during 2012 and 2013.  They took the opportunity to run a very successful outreach programme for which they have won awards.  You can read more about what they were doing in their blog on the Staffordshire Hoard web site and here in a document taken from the current project design.

 

Meanwhile at the British Museum the conservation team there were wrestling with making sense of the many fragments of die-impressed sheets possibly from helmets, and reeded strips that might be from a variety of objects. Their painstaking joining work resulted in the increase of the number of known friezes on the sheets from 11 to 14, and produced larger areas so the patterns could be seen more fully. The reeded strips could be shown  to have a number of different widths and riveting patterns, so they were clearly coming from a range of items. More information can be read here.

 

Chris Fern worked with all the material other than the die-impressed sheets and reeded strips. He prepared a preliminary catalogue, noting possible joins, suites of fittings that had been taken from the same item, wear and destruction. He has identified additional Christian items and fittings that might have come from something like a book cover.  We still have a number of mystery objects whose function we hope to identify in Stage 2.  At the end of Stage 1 Chris prepared an assessment for the project design and you can read that here.  It was written after the Grouping Exercise in February 2014, and provides our current understanding of the material he dealt with.

 

Back at the British Museum programmes of scientific analysis were being carried out on both the gold and on the organics and inlays. Both programmes produced a great deal of useful information.  Wood was identified inside both a pommel and in a silver fitting that might be part of a processional cross. The latter also having the remains of horn. Beeswax, animal and plant gums were identified in the cloisonné fittings. Unusual types of niello were found as inlays, and one inlay material still defies identification.  Finding out the composition is a task for Stage 2.

 

We had planned a pilot project to analyse a small group of gold fittings to see if there was surface enhancement or depletion. This was to help us decide whether it was safe to use surface analysis to provide the measurements for the composition of the gold.  It was found that there was surface depletion of the silver, meaning that the surface composition did not reflect the core composition. This surface depletion was not the result of burial conditions. So the pilot revealed that the Anglo-Saxon craftsmen were carrying out the technique deliberately. This had not been suspected before. As a result a much bigger programme of analyses were undertaken to explore this. The British Museum kindly made available some additonal items from their collections to see if it was happening in other places and on other types of Anglo-Saxon gold work.  English Heritage kindly gave us yet more money to carry out the work.  It was found that the same phenomenon was widespread.  There were intriguing hints that coins and female jewellery may have undergone more surface enhancement/depletion than other categories, i.e. the gold they were made from was less pure to begin with. Alas we cannot pursue this in Stage 2 as the Hoard doesn't contain these things, but it will be an interesting avenue of investigation for others in the future.

 

A summary of all the analytical work can be read here, and we intend to make all the Stage 1 reports available on this site as Stage 2 progresses.

 

One very useful task that was carried out late in the life of Stage 1 was the Grouping Exercise. All of the Hoard items were brought together at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery so that Chris could see items together, He needed to check his records to see if items did indeed fit together and belong to the same piece. Up to that point he had often seen fragments from the same item in different locations and at widely different times.

 

The Groupin Exercise was a major logistical problem as it was the first time the Hoard had been in the same place since it was found. Normally during Stage 1 pieces were on display at four different venues. Pieces not on display were often either being in investigated at the British Museum, or at Lincoln being X-radiographed. We held the exercise at Birmingham because the museum there had a room big enough to lay everything out in.

 

It is very appropriate here to pay tribute to the staff at both museums who spent Stage 1 making and unmaking their exhibitions repeatedly so we could catalogue, analyse, photograph and X-radiograph the pieces. This was a major task for them at a time when all museums are suffering from ever declining numbers of staff to do all the work that is necessary, and we added to their load considerably.  So a big thank-you to both museums.

 

Finally as a taste of what will be available at the end of Stage 2, we draw your attention to a splendid little book called Beasts, Birds and Gods. Interpreting the Staffordshire Hoard by Chris Fern and George Speake.

 

This was published by West Midlands History to celebrate the opening of the new permanent gallery for part of the Hoard in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in October 2014.  It explains how the animal art of the Hoard works.  It was good to know that Chris and George kept busy during the break between Stages 1 and 2.

 

The X-radiograph of a hilt plate before cleaning showing the additional pieces.

 

(Lincoln Archives)

A mount possibly from a book cover (K356).

 

(Photo Guy Evans)

Chris Fern (front) hard at work during the Grouping Exercise with David Griffiths at the back updating our database.

 

(Photo: BMT)

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