A tale of two hoards...

on Saturday, 05 April 2014. Posted in Conservation

The conservation lab has been overtaken by the Bronze Age recently with two hoards totalling over 200 objects requiring x-ray, cleaning and stabilisation. Both the Hindon and Wardour hoards were found by a metal detectorist near Salisbury and have been declared as treasure. The hoards were excavated by archaeologists and information about how they were buried is being collected and analysed in the hope of gaining some clue as to why the objects were buried. Both hoards have been acquired by the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum and once the objects have been conserved they will be put on display in the renovated Wessex Gallery at the museum.

In January of this year the conservation team took microscopes, cleaning tools and brushes and a few objects from the Wardour hoard to the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum as part of the ‘Watch This Space Exhibition’ giving visitors and local school groups a chance to see behind-the-scenes conservation in action. In the public gallery, conservators were on hand to answer questions about the hoard and demonstrate the cleaning techniques we use. Using the microscopes, the conservators were able to see the objects under magnification and could carry out mechanical cleaning.

Whilst the Hindon hoard has now been finished and is ready for display we are still working on the Wardour hoard and it is throwing up a few surprises. The Wardour hoard contains objects spanning a period of 1000 years (2000 BC to 800 BC) during which time the manufacturing process had greatly improved. This has resulted in a range of qualities of objects, some very deteriorated and corroded and others as stable and solid as when they were first made.

X-raying metal objects is an important stage of the conservation process, particularly objects from burial as the soil on the surface often obscures the true condition of the object. The x-rays highlight any cracks or weaknesses in the objects which the conservators need to be aware of during the cleaning process. X-rays are also used by those analysing the hoard as they can reveal clues  to the manufacturing process. The x-rays of the Wardour hoard have shown some quite extreme manufacturing faults with many of the objects appearing to have a ‘honeycomb’ like structure. Metallurgist Peter Northover from Oxford University suggests that this is likely to have been caused by faults in the casting process such as a badly prepared mould or careless pouring. The millions of tiny gas bubbles in the objects means they would have been very soft and easily broken when first made and are even more fragile now. The weaknesses in the objects and lack of care during manufacture suggest many of the objects were made for ceremonial rather than practical use.

The Wardour and Hindon hoards will be on display at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum in late spring.

Gabrielle Flexer,
Contract Conservator

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