Conserving the Isleham sword and scabbard

This beautifully decorated scabbard was found in a field, in soil dredged from an old watercourse, with most of its sword still inside. It had been struck, probably by a plough, and bent in two places, tearing parts of the scabbard and springing it open.

The iron sword had corroded very badly, while the bronze scabbard had remained in good condition. The bright yellow golden colour of the metal and traces of decoration could be glimpsed underneath the incrustations. After being photographed and X-rayed, the sword and scabbard were separated so that each could be closely studied.

The British Museum conservator was able to slide the two plates of the scabbard apart and remove the sword, which, though badly decayed and fragmentary, could now be examined. A maker's mark (unusual on British swords of this date) was just visible near the top of the sword. The surface in the area of the mark was fragile and flaking, so it was consolidated. The conservator also made an electroform of the area so that the mark could be studied without handling the sword itself.

On the bronze scabbard there were heavy incrustations of iron corrosion (from the sword) as well as soil deposits. The conservator removed these with chemicals and small hand tools. The bends in both plates were straightened using mallets made of wood and horn. Then the two plates were put back together. The cleaning and study of the scabbard showed that the decoration was still very sharply defined, almost as crisp as the day it left the craftsman's hands.

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