The Staffordshire hoard conservation project by Deborah Cane + Pieta Greaves + Natalie Harding + Ciaran Lavelle

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The Staffordshire Hoard conservation programme was set up in 2010, following the discovery of a large Anglo-Saxon hoard of gold and garnet objects in a field by a metal detector operator. The finds were jointly acquired by the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (PMAG, Stoke-on-Trent) following one of the most successful public fundraising campaigns in English history raising the £3.285m (US$5.255m) asking price in less than three months.
The project has taken a highly innovative, open and collegiate approach to conservation unlike any before it, and it is unique for archaeological materials recovered in the UK.
The conservation team based at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has not only conserved the materials to a high professional standard, it has also successfully engaged both conservation professionals and public audiences, and through delivery of an extraordinary range of activities over a short time period, raised the profile of conservation in the UK and worldwide through the use of social media.
The project is now coming to the end of Phase One, with the team aiming to have conserved all of the 3500 objects and fragments by the end of 2013, allowing us to now reflect on what has been achieved since 2010.
Building a collegiate environment
The collegiate approach that has underpinned the project has proven very successful, attracting participants from, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, Greece, the USA as well as the UK.
Since 2010 there have been 14 professional placements, 25 students and 10 non-conservation placements that participated in both the hands-on conservation programme and the public engagement programme. Experiences of the participants can be found on the Staffordshire Hoard website www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk.
In early 2013 emerging professionals Ciaran Lavelle and Natalie Harding joined the programme for 3 months thanks to funding support from English Heritage. Below they discuss their experiences.
Ciaran Lavelle
The Staffordshire Project as a whole was of interest to me, not just based on my own role within the project, but for the multi-layer approach to sharing the process.
During my time on the project I was part of an international team of professionals and students. As a recent graduate myself I understand the importance of learning from those with experience as well as to learn from students of various schools of conservation with different perspectives.
I am personally very interested in public engagement, teaching the public about the importance of heritage and its conservation, and the roles they can play in this. The public nature of the Hoard Project provides the opportunity to learn about all these aspects. It was a rewarding experience to work with, and to impart what knowledge I had to the public and the volunteers through the guided public tours of the conservation studio. The project also allowed me the opportunity to interact with the public in new and exciting ways, such as through the medium of social networking sites and blogs.
My short time on the project will hopefully benefit me thanks to the new skills acquired and the connections that I have made.

Natalie Harding
It has been expressed many times before: working on the Staffordshire Hoard is a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity. Saying that you have been directly involved with the Staffordshire Hoard conservation project as a conservator almost automatically brings an exclamation of amazement followed by the occasional hinted tone of jealousy. The widespread publicity surrounding the project has meant that finally even my parents recognise something that I’m working on! The public engagement programmes have increased the project visibility and from a conservator’s point of view, I found this to be an interesting and enjoyable part of working on the Hoard.
Having access to these forms of interaction and communication with the public reminds us of the importance of fruition of these collections and reinforces the reasons for our involvement with their conservation. Undertaking conservation on these objects meant that every portion of damage was scrutinised, studied and questioned. By being able to view inside an object, to see where solder had been placed to attach pieces together and identifying layout markings, joins, holes and rivets, more and more knowledge is gained.
Since leaving the Hoard I have successfully secured a position as conservator at the Science Museum (London, UK), working on their upcoming Information Age Gallery. Although the objects are very different, the principles to assess and conserve are the same.

Sharing our knowledge with the public
A programme giving access to a local, national and international audience has been achieved by open lectures, studio tours, family days, written blogs and video blogs. Launched by the conservation team, it creates a supportive public community of interest that feels engaged and involved with the team and the project.
Lectures are always well attended; so far we have given 41 lectures for general public, specialist conferences and one-off open events, with an estimated audience of 1,940 people. The written and video blogs focus on sharing the conservation process as well as some new and interesting discoveries, we use a mix of simple and more technical language to discuss conservation concepts such as cleaning with thorns and analytical techniques such as XRF and X-rays. Blogs have kept the public informed of the work and encouraged them to participate and engage through discussion threads. Comments from the public on the blog include: “Really interesting, it’s great to have some focus on the work of the conservators which often gets overlooked. Thanks for such an informative and well-presented blog”
“This is a wonderful article! Thank you for showing so many examples and explaining in very clear language what you’re discovering about the manufacturing processes. Can you suggest any good articles about the path to becoming a conservator?”

So far we have had 568,675 visits to the website, made up of 45.5% from the UK, 33% from USA and 21.5% from the rest of the world; we also have 1174 Facebook followers and 2318 Twitter followers.
More hands-on conservation activities include monthly Hoard tours, where conservation techniques and discoveries are shared with the public over an hour-long period, members of the public have the chance to ask questions about the process and look down the microscope at real objects. Tours are always very popular and sell out well in advance. To date we have had 26 public tours comprising 286 participants, we have also hosted 164 visits from dignitaries and specialist groups of varying sizes from1-10 people.
The future
The future is also a positive one with Birmingham Museums Trust now focusing on a new Heritage Lottery funded hoard gallery due to open in autumn 2014. Audience consultation feedback has shown a keen interest in the desire for information about craftsmanship, warfare, language and life, as well as being able to view star objects.
In addition to this, understanding more about how the objects were conserved is a repeated request. The design concept has therefore reflected this with a stylised conservation table with a glass top, literally at the centre of the gallery, under which some of the finds will be visible. We have also included pull-out drawers with X-rays, XRF spectra and detailed photography; pull-out trolleys with educational handling materials with a conservation theme; videos of conservation in action and conservators talking about their work and finally interactive days where a conservator will be in the gallery to discuss the work they do. All of which should enhance the public interpretation of the beautiful finds displayed in the gallery.
We will also be moving into Phase Two of the conservation programme, which will focus on piecing the thousands of smaller fragments together as well as research-based analytical questions, plus continuing our commitment to the collegiate and public engagement programmes.
In conclusion
The Staffordshire hoard conservation project has been the most open and engaged conservation project of its kind, and has created and sustained a worldwide community of public and professional interest through the effective use of mainstream and social media.
Creating an open and collegiate project has helped to cement partnerships and built our public advocacy work, creating a wide following. This vibrant environment has positively contributed to the success of funding applications and kept the programme moving forward. Simon Cane who set up the programme believes that this approach has made the Hoard the most democratic archaeological find in history and offers a model of how conservation can better serve the diverse communities of interest, social, professional, academic, political, local, regional, national and international.
Current exhibitions of the Hoard can be seen at the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (Stoke-on-Trent), Tamworth Castle and Lichfield Cathedral. Past blogs and future updates, can be found at www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk