Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

A year post at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery funded by the Esmee Fairbairn foundation. I carried out more analysis of the metals in the Hoard at Birmingham Museum. There were two major projects planned. First, a large study of the silver in the Hoard using XRF to see if we can see any differences in composition over time, or whether different types of objects were being made out of different alloys.  The second project was to investigate more about the surface treatment taking place and to determine the solder used. I also found time to do a quick survey of the copper alloys in the Hoard and to study the niello objects.

A major component of the funding for this post was outreach. For this wrote several blogs, presented at conferences and was involved in behind the scenes tours and meet the expert events. It was great to be able to share the latest on the scientific research with the public.

British Museum

This post involved analysis of the Staffordshire Hoard metalwork. I worked with a larger research team starting to answer questions about how the pieces were constructed, their origins and when it was deposited. The main focus of the study was the gold analysis. I also had the opportunity to work with some of the museums own collections.

During my time at the museum I was involved in the move to the newly built World Conservation and Exhibition Centre. I also took part in the department’s science day in the great court, gallery talks and outreach events.

Metallography Course
Institute of Archaeology, University College London

I was invited to teach UCL masters and PhD students the basics of metallography. The course I offered covered copper alloys, bloomery irons and also touched on cast irons. During the lectures, which were open to all, I provided short exercises that allowed the students to identify microstructures themselves but also provided ample time for individual questions.

A practical session was also provided for a small number of students. This introduced the etching process. The microscope session focused on iron samples and many of my PhD knives were used as  examples, time was also made to look at the students samples.

Demonstrating & Teaching
Division of Archaeological, Geographical and Environmental Sciences
University of Bradford

During my PhD I have assisted in many archaeometallurgy practical workshops. The majority of these have been for undergraduate or masters students undertaking the archaeometallurgy module. In 2009 I was also required to prepare the samples before the sessions and assist in setting up and cleaning away the microscopes. During the summer of 2006 I supervised a work placement student in the metallurgy laboratory teaching them the entire process, from cutting to analysis, and provided the metallurgy know how required.

I have also demonstrated for many group tours of the Bradford department and have explained what goes on in an archaeometallurgy lab to all sorts of people from undergraduates, to the general public to school children. I have also helped the department during science week in their ‘Science of the Past’ workshops aimed at A-level students.

In my final year as a PhD student I was responsible for the metallurgy laboratory, and for the masters or undergraduate student present. In this year I taught students how to use the equipment correctly and safely,

As well as metallurgy I have demonstrated for other modules including instrumental analysis where I have taught and demonstrated practical x-radiograph analysis but also demonstrated biomolecules analysis using GC-MS. I have also assisted with other more general teaching, such as  microscope skills, basic slag identification and metallographic analysis sample preparation.

Laboratory Placement
Division of Archaeological, Geographical and Environmental Sciences
University of Bradford

Metallurgy Laboratory

The placement with Gerry McDonnell provided an opportunity to write a paper based upon a previous second year essay, for publication in Historical Metallurgy. This involved collecting various reports on knives together to create a synthesis. This placement strengthened my writing skills and improved my confidence in my own abilities. I also under took the analysis of an assemblage of knives using x-radiographs and took part in discussions about sampling strategies and methods.

Biomolecules Laboratory

The analysis of bitumen lined ceramics from Sri Lanka introduced me to new analytical techniques including GC-MS and stable isotopes. This placement was an excellent experience for me as I have previously done very little on biomolecular archaeology and this placement gave me the opportunity to study bitumen. I got the chance to learn more about analytical techniques such as GC-MS and stable isotopes, while also learning how to interpret the data. This placement also improved my writing abilities and resulted in another paper.

During excavations at Anuradhapura sherds of buff-ware pottery were found with an interior coating of bitumen. These sherds were dated to the 5th-9th century during which time Sri Lanka became the main centre of trade in the Indian Ocean. Bitumen does not naturally occur in Sri Lanka therefore it must have come from elsewhere. For this research project samples of the bitumen from the interior surface of the ceramics were analysed using GC-MS (Gas Chromatography – Mass Spectrometry) and stable light isotopes. The results suggest that most of the samples have come from a bitumen source near Susa, possibly in the Luristan region. The bitumen lined buff-ware vessels may have been used to store or transport a variety of perishable liquid products such as oils, perfumed oils, or wine. It is possible that a combination of the three were being transported using these vessels.

This placement resulted in a publication Stern, B., J. Connan, E. Blakelock, R. Jackman, R. A. E. Coningham & C. Heron 2008. From Susa to Anuradhapura: Reconstructing aspects of trade and exchange in bitumen-coated ceramic vessels between Iran and Sri Lanka from the Third to the Ninth Centuries AD. Archaeometry 50: 409-428

English Heritage Placement
English Heritage Technology Team, Fort Cumberland, Portsmouth

The Technology Team use a range of scientific and archaeological techniques to investigate crafts and industries that range in date from Bronze Age to Industrial. Most of these technologies such as blacksmithing, involved the application of high temperatures. They mostly study waste products but occasionally examine tools and finished artefacts when they can. Scientific analysis can provide information on such topics as craft skills, the economic status of archaeological sites and their trade links.

The equipment used during this placement includes a range of microcopes, a hardness tester, digital cameras, Scanning Electron Microcope with Energy Dispersive Spectrometer (SEM-EDS), X-Ray Flourescence (XRF) and X-Ray diffraction (XRD) systems, which between them can answer queries such as the method of manufacture, origins of raw materials and the decay processes that have affected an object or structure. Advice as to appropriate methods of scientific investigation of archaeological and historical materials is provided to those within and outside English Heritage.

As the placement student I was given full training on the equipment in the lab and the various different materials brought into the lab. I was given projects to complete these projects often included a variety of different techniques of analysis and types of residues. During the placement I was given the opportunity to handle Iron Age, Roman, Early Medieval, Medieval and experimental iron slag. I have also worked on copper alloy waste products and mould fragments from a cauldron and skillet foundry, crucibles used to melt copper alloys, glass working waste, copper alloy and enamel Roman brooches, lead objects, cupels and porcelain.

I also had the opportunity to take part in an experiment investigating the production of hammerscale during smithing. This included using a high speed camera to record spherical hammerscale forming during the welding process. Together with Roger Wilkes I managed to work out how to use the camera.