From a block of soil...

on Tuesday, 05 July 2016. Posted in Archaeology, Conservation

The conservation team are celebrating this week as we have completed work on a beautiful and exciting project. Conservation of the stunning finds excavated from Bognor Regis by Thames Valley Archaeological Services in 2008 has come to fruition. The items form part of an unusual burial assemblage along with an iron ‘bed’ frame and sword and are thought to originate from the late Bronze Age/ early Iron Age.

Taking block of soil for x-ray

The finds first came to us in the unassuming form of a large soil block, this was too large to x-ray at our labs so was transported to a local hospital where x-rays revealed a large amount of intricate metal latticework and a helmet.

X-ray of soil block from hospital

The soil block was carefully excavated, layer by layer, revealing the spectacular nature of the copper alloy items held within. The helmet and latticework were extremely fragmented and fragile, the helmet was split in half and part of the lattice was adhered to the helmet with corrosion products.

Partially excavated soil block
The soil block revealing its secrets

The objects were cleaned deftly under magnification in order to remove the remaining soil and corrosion layers. During cleaning it was possible to separate the fused helmet and latticework. In order to stabilise the objects a sophisticated system of patching was developed utilising a fine polyester fabric and adhesive gels, more commonly used in the conservation of paintings. The materials were tinted with pigments and layered to create strong, light and sympathetically blended supports for the vulnerable areas.

Helmet during treatment
Helmet after treatment

The unusual nature of the items and the complexity of the challenges presented in their care and preservation necessitated experimentation, inventiveness and perseverance within the project team. It is wonderful to know that members of the public will be able to experience the same wonder and joy as our team when the objects are displayed in the near future.

Beth Baker, Senior Conservator, CMAS

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