The Staffordshire Hoard Conservation Plan

Simon Cane (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery)

(At the Symposium, Simon Cane gave a paper entitled ‘The Current Condition of the Hoard’ but this was out-of-date within weeks. Consequently he has kindly allowed us to include the plan for the conservation needs of the Hoard, dated July 2010.)


The Staffordshire Hoard represents the most significant archaeological find ever uncovered in the West Midlands region. Since the disclosure of the find in September 2009 there has been an unprecedented level of public and media interest in the Hoard. There is also an academic caucus who have specific and significant expectations in relation to establishing a research agenda around the Hoard. Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum, Stoke-on-Trent are the Acquiring Partners and understand the need to address the varied agendas and expectations that have arisen since the discovery and acquisition of the Hoard.

The first and most important step is to conserve the Hoard so that it is materially stable, thereby allowing the effective investigation of the material by scientists, archaeologists and historians. This plan lays out how the Acquiring Partners intend to meet their responsibilities in this area and how they will ensure that the democratic and open approach that has typified the handling of this most important of finds is maintained throughout the process of conservation. 

What is in the Hoard?

Following initial assessment the Hoard was found to contain 97 sword pommels (25% of the sword pommels are of a cloisonné design with 60% constructed from fine filigree), 354 sword and dagger hilt fittings, 9 pyramids, 4 pommel rings, 2 buttons and a large amount of fragments. The Hoard in its uncleaned state totals 5.094 kilos of gold and 1.442 kilos of silver. It includes approximately 3,500 cloisonné garnets (51 loose) and a large number of fragments some of which are consistent with those found on helmets of this period. In total the Hoard contains 3,490 metal pieces/fragments and has no comparison in terms of content and quantity in the UK or mainland Europe.

Guiding Principles/Conservation Statement

The conservation work on the hoard will produce objects which are physically and chemically stable and will reveal and preserve all the surviving surface detail and any related information, such as organic material, by means which will not be prejudicial to the wider study of the Hoard.

Conservation Advisory Panel

Terms of reference (including Chairing and links to Research Advisory Panel)

The Conservation Advisory Panel (CAP) will be made up from experts in the fields of metallurgy, archaeology, conservation, research and conservation science. Their role will be to discuss treatment options and advise on the best course of action for any specific conservation question that is raised. Each member’s role is to bring both current knowledge and experience gathered through practice to the debating forum.

The CAP will be chaired by the ‘Hoard Conservation Project’ (HCP) leader.
The HCP leader will facilitate the flow of information between the CAP and the Research Advisory Panel (RAP) and the Hoard Management Group (HMG). All the meetings will be minuted to provide transparency and accountability in the decision-making process.


The core group of the CAP will be made up of the HCP leader, (Deborah Cane, BMAG), a lead from the British Museum conservation team (Marilyn Hockey or Fleur Shearman, BM) and one nominated representative from the Potteries Museum, Stoke-on-Trent (PMAG).

It is envisaged an additional seven experts in their conservation-related fields will be invited to join the CAP.

Selection Process

An open invitation will be sent out via email to ask for expressions of interest for membership of the CAP. Each candidate will be asked to highlight the areas of expertise they would bring to the panel. The panel will then be selected by the core three members of the CAP together with the Collections Services Manager, in consultation with the Hoard Management Group.

Frequency of meetings

The conservation project is funded for two years. In that time the CAP would be expected to meet four times a year, but some discussions and decisions may be made via email or phone.

Travel expenses would be paid for the members of the CAP and meetings would be expected to take place in Birmingham (although there may be a requirement to meet in Stoke or London on occasion). The CAP (or part of the team) would be required to advise on grouping categorisation which will take place within the first three months of the project.

Project Goals

  • To conserve, record and preserve all metals, organic and soil debris
  • To identify material to be ‘preserved as found’
  • To conserve material for displays at BMAG, PMAG and elsewhere
  • To facilitate analysis and research
  • To facilitate the production of two National Geographic programmes
  • To explore and assess options for reassembly 

Proposed Project Structure


The project has funding for two years with an envisaged start date of September 2010. Conservation work will start prior to this date to work up and test the protocols and treatments proposed by the CAP and to enable analysis at CRM2F in Paris.

Project Structure

The project structure is illustrated in the following chart. The Hoard Conservation Project Leader will chair the CAP, liaise with the Chairs of the other groups, manage all aspects of the conservation project and report to the Hoard Management Group either directly or through the Head of Museum Operations.

Project structure

The Hoard Conservation Project (HCP) leader will play a pivotal role in liaising with the Hoard Management Group, the Research Advisory Panel (RAP) and the CAP, which they will chair.

The HCP leader will directly line manage the two project conservators and set up and manage the programme of interns, placements and invited specialists.

The aim of the role is to facilitate the conservation of the Hoard, making sure that conservation, health & safety and security standards are adhered to through the term of the project, whilst ensuring access to the collections to research specialists and maintaining the public profile of the conservation work. The role will be to facilitate as much work as possible within the time frame without jeopardising the integrity of the project as a whole or infringing the ‘Guiding principles’.

All the HCP leader’s work will be in direct support and discussion with their line manager, the Collections Services Manger at BMAG.

The two project conservators will be expected to liaise with the HCP leader and take on the day-to-day management of their own work and that of any interns and volunteers to make sure that conservation standards are adhered to.

The Conservation Advisory Panel (CAP) will be chaired by the HCP leader and the discussions will aim to maintain conservation standards whilst facilitating the requests of the Research Advisory Panel (RAP) through meeting regularly with the RAP Chair. Minutes from the CAP meeting will be circulated to the RAP (and vice versa) and the Hoard Management Group via the CAP Chair.

The Research Advisory Panel (RAP) will feed into the CAP group by direct contact between the Chairs of the RAP and CAP, through circulating minutes of respective meetings via the HCP leader and RAP chair, and through requests for access or specific work via email or directly to the CAP meeting via a representative from the group.

Joint research colloquiums will be held between the RAP and the CAP biannually.

The Hoard Management Group will be kept informed of all correspondence via email from the HCP leader and the Hoard Management Group may call a meeting of representatives from each group for a briefing at periods throughout the project.

The internship/placement/volunteer programmes will be managed by the HCP leader and the conservation team. A request for expressions of interest will be circulated to training institutions, the Icon and IIC web sites, the Cons Distlist and to the local communities after consultation with the community outreach department at BMAG. It is hoped to offer 12 weeks worth of internship/placement time per year for students and two longer-term voluntary positions (up to 6 months a year) for a person local to Birmingham.

At present Birmingham City Council policy does not allow for any payments to be made to interns or volunteers so funding will be needed to be secured by the interested parties. It is hoped that up to £40 a month may be offered towards travel.

The selection of placements will be made by the HCP leader in conjunction with the Collections Services Manger.

Invited Specialists will be managed by the HCP leader and the two conservation project conservators.

A request for expressions of interest will be circulated via the Icon, IIC and ICOM-CC web sites and the Cons Distlist. The selection of placements will be made by the HCP leader in conjunction with the Collections Services Manger and a selected panel from the cap.

Funding for one/two week placements is available to cover travel accommodation and subsistence only. It is hoped to offer four two-week placements per year.

Treatment Strategies

Treatment protocols have been agreed with the British Museum Metals Conservation Department, and these are outlined below. Specific treatments have been discussed but will be further clarified once the two project conservators and the CAP are in place.

Initial work

  • Collection and collation of all available excavation data. 
  • Preliminary identification and minimal spot-repair of all embrittled, detached and loose elements and running cracks for items to be exhibited prior to full conservation treatment.
  • Replacement of plastic bags with boxes for organic material prone to mould growth and staining and for the fragile silver fragments.

Sorting and characterization:

  • Carry out any outstanding x-radiography
  • Sorting by similar metal/technique/design into known function groups e.g. sword fittings.
  • Sorting by similar metal/technique/design into possible function groups e.g. saddles, books, seax bindings, helmet etc.
  • Sorting by corrosion accretions.
  • Sort fragment groups particularly of strip and edge bindings and mounts.
  • Co-location of similar binding strips.
  • Initial selection of items to be kept untreated or partially untreated for analysis.


  • Categorization of fresh, recent and original breaks. 
  • Categorization of original damage and wear on objects.
  • Micro-excavation of small areas of soil as necessary.
  • Technical recording of all organic and mineral preserved material in direct and indirect contact with metalwork.
  • Identification and securing of loose or fragile elements such as silver washers and any surviving rivets or evidence of mounting fixings.
  • Removal of most soil and non-relevant surface accretions where necessary.
  • Physical joining with reversible adhesives.
  • Reconstruction of cell-work where it is loose.
  • Remedial and minimal consolidation of weak or friable surfaces.
  • Re-packaging for transportation for display.

Areas of Analysis and Research
(Clarification of analytical and other research questions following sorting and discussions with researchers and historians)

  • Detached garnets
  • Other set stones or glass where detached
  • Backing cements and putty from the garnet cell-work
  • Foils from cell-work
  • Niello
  • Adhesives
  • Organic setting materials
  • Identification of organic material suitable for C14
  • Identification of organic and preserved material relevant for understanding of objects
  • Fuller metal analysis
  • Fuller investigation of garnets, other stones and glass where still in position
  • Further x-radiography
  • Scanning
  • Further photography

Reconstruction for Display

  • Scanning of objects for digital reconstruction
  • Reproduction from digital scanning data
  • Possible remedial re-shaping for stability of vulnerable, crumpled or damaged sheet gold, or for historical understanding of the object
  • Reconstruction of silver foil with reversible adhesives

As mentioned earlier, specific treatments will be discussed further and clarified once the two project conservators and the CAP are in place. This will form the practical treatment protocol and control measure to be worked to. Below is an outline of the potential treatment sequence.

  • Photographic record prior to treatment
  • Discussion of piece
  • Fully document visible findings
  • Carry out the work under magnification
  • Document any findings
  • Photographic record after treatment
  • Update treatment record prior to work on the next object

The Research Agenda

The conservation work will link into the research agenda through discussions between the RAP, the CAP and any independent research project set up (e.g. Charisma Pixe/ Raman analysis project).

Once the research project has been selected the conservation team will help to facilitate the research needs by locating, packing and making objects accessible.

The conservation team will also feed any findings from the treatment into the CAP and RAP via email and at the panel meetings as requested.

Public Access

All public access events will need to be developed within the scope of the National Geographic Agreement and the digital strategy for the Hoard. The project will be made accessible to the public with live conservation events at BMAG and PMAG; if security permits this will take place in the gallery, if the security is not acceptable this will be carried out in the conservation studios with timed visits or via ‘live’ links.

As treatment and analysis work proceeds a small display panel could be produced to highlight the latest findings; this could also be done via the website.

Video footage taken (by the conservation team) during the treatments could be played on the galleries and posted on the web site.

A website blog would be considered but the style and terminology and protocol for this would need to be agreed in advance.

Additional open days or visits to the studios could be offered to specialist groups, such as; Icon and IIC Metals Groups, Gemmological association, school groups, visually impaired and other groups with special needs, jewellers, conservation students and so forth.

Short articles or a presentation can be written for the Friends of BMAG and PMAG.

Short talks can be offered to local interest groups and one seminar a year could be organised at BMAG to highlight the work to date, both conservation and historical.

Access for the local press will be facilitated as agreed by the management team.

National Geographic filming will be facilitated as requested.

Risk Register/Control 

 Risk register


The assumption has been made that the project will start in September 2010.

Conservation timetable