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Alan Graham excavating the Frome Hoard

Sam Moorhead, Finds Adviser, Portable Antiquities Scheme, British Museum writes on the British Museum bog here

When working with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), the concept of a ‘forward job plan’ is somewhat laughable – your work patterns are largely dictated by finds made by detectorists. Some discoveries can completely change your career as the Frome Hoard did for me when it was found by Dave Crisp in April 2010.

Dave had dug down a foot into the ground when he started to pull out pottery and coins from the clay soil. When he realised that he had found a coin hoard, he made one of the most important decisions of his life – he filled the hole in, walked away, and contacted his local PAS Finds Liaison Officer for Wiltshire, Katie Hinds. Katie contacted her opposite number in Somerset, Anna Booth, and a professional excavation of the site took place under the direction of local archaeologist Alan Graham.

The northern façade of the Church of Yemrehanna Kristos. Seen here within the cave which houses it
Image credit Stephen Battle/World Monuments Fund

Martin Bailey, writing in The Art Newspaper, reports that a team of British conservators will help preserve Ethiopia’s oldest wall paintings. The paintings are in the twelfth century Church of Yemrehanna Kristos in Northern Ethiopia –

A project to conserve Ethiopia’s oldest wall paintings, which experts believe date to around 1100 or soon after, is due to begin this month. They are in the church of Yemrehanna Kristos, a full-sized building constructed inside a cave in the Lasta Mountains at an altitude of 2,700m. The cave is above a valley of juniper trees and, until recently, could only be reached by a day’s journey on foot or mule from the town of Lalibela, in northern Ethiopia. The church’s interior is so dark that international specialists did not note the paintings’ existence until the 1990s; the first published account was in 2001.

The London-based Ethiopian Heritage Fund, with support from the World Monuments Fund, is undertaking the project. The conservation team consists of two British specialists, Lisa Shekede and Stephen Rickerby; the latter describes the paintings as being in a “highly vulnerable and threatened condition”.

The initial investigation will include in-situ microscopy, along with ultra-violet and infra-red examinations. Paint samples will be tested, partly to determine the original pigments and media used and to identify added materials. There will be small-scale cleaning trials, to test which materials should be used. Monitoring sensors will be installed to record temperature and humidity changes. A separate team from the University of Cape Town will undertake a laser scan survey to create a three- dimensional data model of the church and cave, to map structural movement.

More here and here.


By Roy Goutté
On the 17th September 2015 I finally got to see the ‘Jersey Hoard’, a fantastic hoard of mixed silver and copper coins discovered in Jersey back in 2012 and said to weigh three-quarters of a ton! It was my first re-visit to my homeland for 5 years.

The hoard has recently been moved and now housed in the museum at La Hougue Bie. Since its discovery, by two metal detectorists, conservators have been removing on average about 500 coins per week out of the estimated total of possibly 50,000! But it’s not only coins making up this most amazing mass, for once coins started being removed, gold torcs and jewellery began to reveal themselves and to date seven torcs have now been exposed! An estimated value of the whole package has been put at over £10m which is a phenomenal amount! Even though they were just recording on the day I was there, you are able to observe the conservators at work as they painstakingly take the hoard apart, cleaning and conserving the contents as they go.

A notice informs you that the coins are made from a mix of silver and copper and why they are now dark green

Also hidden in Jersey’s eastern countryside at La Hougue Bie and within its grounds, lies one of Europe’s finest prehistoric monuments. At the heart of this tranquil site stands a medieval church atop a prehistoric mound under which lies a 6,000-year-old Neolithic Cruciform Armorican Passage Grave. Without a doubt this is the Channel Islands jewel in the crown and an absolute ‘must see’.

Now that the hoard is safely housed in the purposely built lab it is more reason to pay the site a visit. You certainly won’t be disappointed that’s for sure, but do take a torch along with you to view the inside of the passage grave as the lighting is minimal! Alternatively, check out this excellent website that displays the chambered tomb superbly.

Jersey Heritage itself has a very informative website here and here. Within the museum is a fascinating geology and Ice-Age area aside from other coin hoards, axes, swords and spears belonging to Jersey’s Neolithic community.

Just a part of the Ice-Age exhibition

As a reminder of more recent times, especially to the islanders (not that they need reminding that is) is a command bunker built during the German Occupation of Jersey and turned into a memorial dedicated to the slave-workers brought to the Channel Islands by invading Nazi forces during the Second World War and treated abominably. Personally, I chose not to enter this ‘museum in its own right’ as I find it too depressing and in a way not in keeping with the wonder of the other exhibits. Family memories and all that!

That aside, there is a large picnic area where you can enjoy a day out amongst the beautiful surroundings of this mainly peaceful and spiritual site.

A closer look at the hoard through the glass screen of the purposely built lab

A fantastic aerial view of the church atop the mound. The entrance to the passage grave can be observed to the left of the mound

The wonderfully constructed entrance to the passage grave

Both the grave and the church are orientated east/west, the tomb entrance facing east in common fashion. And just when the excitement of discovering the Celtic hoard at Grouville couldn’t have been more, this was then discovered at Trinity …again by a metal detectorist!

Say what you like about metal detectorists but without a doubt they have been responsible for re-writing much of our history by the finds they have made. In many cases it has been in areas not even considered by archaeologists so unlikely to have ever been discovered without their help. Such a shame that they are not given the credit due to them because of a small minority not playing by the rules and getting more attention than they deserve in certain quarters.


The Lunder Conservation Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum

At the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Lunder Conservation Center, visitors have the unique opportunity to see conservators at work in five different laboratories and studios. The Center features floor-to-ceiling glass walls that allow the public to view all aspects of conservation work–work that is traditionally done behind the scenes at other museums and conservation centers


Black on Maroon by Mark Rothko

The painting Black on Maroon (1958) by Mark Rothko is back on display at London’s Tate Modern after 18 months of conservation. The painting was vandalised in 2012 by Wlodzimierz Umaniec who subsequently spent almost a year and a half in prison. The original estimate for conserving the painting was £200,000. BBC News Entertainment & Arts reports –

Mark Rothko’s painting Black on Maroon has gone back on public display at London’s Tate Modern gallery, 18 months after it was vandalised with graffiti. The 1958 painting was defaced by Wlodzimierz Umaniec in October 2012. He was sent to prison as a result but has now apologised for his actions.

The Tate’s conservators have spent 18 months repairing the painting. Conservator Rachel Barker said: “It’s definitely better than I could have hoped at the beginning of the project.” She added: “The nature of the damage was such that we did think the worst.”

Ms Barker told BBC arts editor Will Gompertz the graffiti had covered “an area about the size of an LP” and some had seeped right to the back of the canvas. A vinyl record measures 12in (30cm) in diameter. The conservators first created a replica of the painting and added graffiti before cutting it into strips and testing different types of solvent to see which was most effective at removing the graffiti. They then retouched the damaged area.

Full article here.


A split image showing an X-radiograph of the Chisledon Cauldron and a British Museum metal’s conservator at work on the object
The Trustees of the British Museum
While the original Chiseldon cauldrons undergo conservation at the British Museum BBC News Wiltshire reports that –
A full-size replica of an Iron Age cauldron found in a Wiltshire field as part of “the biggest Iron Age find to date” has been unveiled. The large cauldron is one of 17 found by a metal detector enthusiast near the village of Chiseldon in 2004. The cauldrons, described as “too fragile and important ever to return to Chiseldon”, are at the British Museum. But in 2011, a local history group commissioned an exact copy to be made as a lasting memory of the find.
Story here. See also the British Museum video here.

Conservator Luisa Duarte cleaning a Romano-British sculpture of an eagle and serpent
Image credit Andy Chopping. Museum of London Archaeology/PA

Maev Kennedy, writing in The Guardian yesterday, reports on a Romano-British sculpture recently unearthed in the City of London by archaeologists from the Museum of London.
A superb Roman eagle in near pristine condition, serpent prey wriggling in its beak, has been found by archaeologists in the City of London. A symbol of immortality and power, it was carefully preserved when the aristocratic tomb it decorated was smashed up more than 1,800 years ago – and is regarded as one of the best pieces of Romano-British art ever found.
The preservation is so startling that the archaeologists who found it a few weeks ago at the bottom of a ditch, on the last day of an excavation on a development site at the Minories, were worried in case they had unearthed a Victorian garden ornament.
Excitement spread as it became clear from the context that it really was Roman – but carved in Britain, from Cotswold limestone. Archaeologists are itching to research it further but first after a quick clean – and a frame to support the only damage, a broken wing – it is going on display for six months at the Museum of London, just 30 days from ditch to gallery.
Full article here.

Ian Constantinides, a leading figure in architectural conservation
17 September 1955 – 15 April 2013

Clementine Cecil, writing in The Guardian yesterday and on the 28 May, reports on the death of Ian Constantinides, a leading figure in architectural conservation –
Ian Constantinides, who has died of cancer aged 57, was one of the most innovative figures in recent British architectural conservation. Through his company, St Blaise, he brought together the worlds of building and conservation at a time when the latter was seen as marginal and impractical. With St Blaise he worked on a huge variety of projects, from great castles to bridges and follies. He helped to restore Windsor castle after the fire of 1992 and rebuilt St Ethelburga’s church in Bishopsgate, London, after its destruction by IRA bombing in 1993. Ian, a tall, wiry man with huge energy, also trained a large number of others – in his adventurous, hands-on style – who continue to play a central role in conservation.
He believed that each building held the answers about the best way to repair it if you looked closely enough. The human eye was the best tool, he would say, “better than the tape measure, the set square and the water level”. The test of a good repair, he said, was whether it functioned and was beautiful. “If it fails in either, then it is not a good repair.” He invited people from all the trades on to each building site and encouraged them to learn from each other.
Ian set up St Blaise in 1982. Under his direction, it was involved in the repair of some 150 historic buildings. The company tended to operate at the highest academic end of building conservation, for English Heritage, Cadw (the Welsh historic environment service), Historic Scotland, the National Trust and the Landmark Trust, as well as major sites such as the British Museum, where it was involved in the conservation and restoration of the stone. At the time of his death, Ian was consultant to a conservation project for the James Gibbs building at King’s College, Cambridge.
For his funeral, Ian gave instructions that his coffin be made of scaffolding planks with rope handles.
Full obituary here.

Master Naohachi Usami, 8th generation head of the Kyoto Shōkaku-dō Conservation Studio, at work in 1978 on a Japanese painting

It is with very great sadness that The Heritage Trust reports the death this morning of Mr Naohachi Usami, 8th generation head of the Shōkaku-dō conservation studio in Kyoto – one of only a few studios in Japan accredited with conserving and restoring Japanese National Treasures and other pictorial works of national and international importance.

Beginning with his father, Naoyuki Usami, Naohachi Usami continued and promoted a policy of accepting and training foreign students in the centuries’ old Japanese tradition of mounting, restoring and conserving works of art on paper and silk. Some of those students studied at the Shōkaku-dō for only a few weeks, while others trained tirelessly there for a decade or more, eventually taking back to their respective countries skills and techniques which are now being used to conserve our precious heritage of Far Eastern pictorial art.

In Asia, Europe and the United States there are national museums and private conservation studios that have conservators, trained at the Shōkaku-dō, who are now working at those studios or running them. The Hirayama Asian Pictorial Art Conservation Studio at the British Museum is just one example which has grown out of Naohachi Usami and the Shōkaku-dō’s open-door policy towards training foreign students and will remain his abiding legacy to the world of Far Eastern pictorial art conservation.

Naohachi Usami was 86, he is succeeded by his son at the Shōkaku-dō, Mr Naohide Usami.


From The Kyoto Shimbun

宇佐美直八氏死去 前宇佐美松鶴堂社長






June 2022
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