Snettisham Iron Age hoards

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  • Peter Northover, Department of Materials,
    University of Oxford

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Technology and analysis

Some investigative cleaning, conservation and semi-quantitative analysis of the metalwork was carried out in the early 1990s as part of the Treasure Trove process. These studies are now being greatly extended using a range of analytical techniques including optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry (ICP-AES).

The fragmentary nature of some of the material also facilitates a thorough investigation of the technology and the methods of manufacture of the torcs. The results of the programme will form part of a major catalogue currently being prepared. The work has already confirmed the use of surface enrichment, and of mercury gilding, which appears to be the earliest in Britain, and the identification of charcoal from twigs used as support for twisted wires in construction of some torcs. The work also allows comparisons to be made with other Iron Age and contemporary classical metalwork.

The main aim of the project is to make a representative selection of a wide range of gold, silver and bronze torcs, other artefacts and scrap material from Snettisham and to characterise it in terms of its composition, its manufacturing technology and its goldsmithing techniques. This will enable the analytical and technological group typologies to be consolidated, provide new information and clarification, and be the scientific basis for future comparisons and research with material from other hoards.

A magnified scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of a twisted, hammered, square-section bronze torc wire found by analysis to have the remains of mercury gilding on the surface (light areas)

A magnified scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of a twisted, hammered, square-section bronze torc wire found by analysis to have the remains of mercury gilding on the surface (light areas).