Anglo-Saxon CSI: Sittingbourne

Volunteer Experiences
January 15, 2010, 8:47 am
Filed under: Community | Tags: , , ,


This page showcases the experiences and background of the volunteers that have been involved with the success of the CSI: lab so far.  Some are conservation interns and professionals, but the majority are members of the local community.  See what they have to say about the project and their experiences so far.


My discovery of Sittingbourne CSI was something of a happy accident when I happened to catch a story about the initiative on the local news in early September. I had already been looking at going into conservation at the suggestion of one of my tutors, after graduating from university with a degree in Classics in the summer. Ultimately, I signed up for a training session and then for two conservation sessions a week.

As a Classicist I had visited numerous sites and museums, and spent hours perusing archaeological reports and attempting to translate the Latin inscriptions recorded in the hefty, antiquated CIL (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum) volumes that were busy growing mould in the library. However, in spite of the many books that I read examining artefacts (mainly concerning Roman paintings, mosaics, silverware, sculpture etc.) and aside from handling a few Roman coins, I never had the opportunity to deal directly with authentic archaeological finds.

This is where Sittingbourne CSI really excels; after my first training session comprising of scalpel cleaning and air abrasion, I was let loose on the proper Anglo-Saxon finds (albeit under the watchful eye of those actually qualified to practise conservation) and over the following weeks worked on a variety of objects including shield bosses, knives, spear heads and a cremation urn.. I also attended a lecture presenting the historical background of the Anglo-Saxons and the wider archaeological context within which the site at the Meads is to be considered, as well as using the x-ray machine and being shown how to use the silica gel to store the finds.

The initiative has been of great personal benefit to me as a future conservation student; I am now studying for the ‘Chemistry for Conservators’ course along with Katrina, a conservation intern, and have a place for a Master’s degree in conservation. However, the beauty of the CSI venture is that it has not only helped inexperienced graduates such as myself, but is also beneficial and accessible to anybody with a reasonably steady hand and even a hint of an interest in conservation, archaeology, heritage projects, the Anglo-Saxons or the history of Sittingbourne (or, indeed, all of the above), whether this interest existed before the initiative or developed during it.


“I am a postgraduate conservation student involved in the fourth-year of the program “Master Conservation-restauration des biens-culturels” (equivalent to “Master Conservation of Cultural Properties”), at the Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne university.  It is a five year program which trains students to be a conservator in different specialties (painting, sculpture, graphic art, ethnographic objects, archaeological objects, stained glass and art objects).  I am specializing in archaeological objects with a preference for metal, both archaeological and historical.”


Thinking back over the past 3 months probably the best thing I have worked on was a copper ring – not much to get excited about there you might think but this ring was about an inch or more in diameter, it brought to mind the kind of ‘woggle’ Boy Scouts used to keep their scarves in place but this was shiny like malachite, the precious mineral, and much the same colour too.

It was thick with Swale mud and the only way to clean it was with a cotton bud soaked in IMS.  Through the microscope the surface was cracked and pitted, a small fragment broke away and revealed charcoal coloured copper beneath.  At first I thought it was enamel but after working for a while on it I realised enamel would not be so thin a covering as this;  apparently the original description of ‘copper ring’ was just right.

I could not wait to get back to work the following week and finish off this small ‘gem’ of a piece, then the imagination starts to race – who used this, and what for?  Was it an ornament or a piece of everyday equipment? Belonging to a man or a woman?  We may never know, so back to work on the next piece….


I have always been interested in archeology and my main subject whilst at teacher training college was history.  My son-in-laws father belongs to the Sittingbourne Historical society and told my husband & myself about the public meeting which was held in the Avenue Theatre.  We found the presentation very interesting and I was keen to start as soon as possible.  I have been on several digs in the past so I was particularly interested in doing some conservation work on the artefacts.  I find the process especially rewarding and very exciting.


I originally heard about the finds from a meeting of the Historical Research Group of Sittingbourne and subsequently we learned of the presentation about the Meads finds to be given at the Avenue Theatre. I went and at the end it was announced that volunteers might be needed. I gave my name that night to Dana.

I have been working in the lab since the beginning. I felt that it was a unique opportunity to join a community project that would involve me in something that is normally never seen. Many years ago I spent a little time excavating in Canterbury. This gave me the chance to be involved in work at the next stage. I knew that it would involve learning a lot of new skills. These have included working with a scalpel, air abrasion, photographing the finds , using hot wax to conserve areas of wood while working on an artefact and making up silica gel bags .

Among other artefacts I have worked on shield bosses, buckles and a sword .

It took me some time to get used to the magnification, all work being carried out using a microscope. I would remove what appeared to be a large stone but when looking at it without the microscope it was minute.

When working on finds there can still be wood, leather or other mineral remains there. These may well not appear at first to be what they are.

It is fascinating too to find insect cases or eggs. A couple of weeks ago I kept finding miniscule white objects that looked like eggs inside a shield boss. I then found a space in the earth with the long curved case of an insect, looking rather like a millipede without the legs. The insect finds may or may not be old.

I always speculate on what the environment was like and what the people looked like who last used the items about 1400 years ago. I also wonder when working on weapons whether they had been used in anger.


I was lucky enough to be involved with CSI: Sittingbourne for the entire summer of 2009.  As a student in conservation at Cardiff University I am required to complete 8 weeks work experience to further my practical skills and find out what it is really like within the profession.

At first I was reluctant to accept this placement – my initial thoughts were, “what is there in Sittingbourne?”  Luckily I did accept it and I don’t think I could have asked for more.  Dana has helped myself and the other interns with our studies a a great deal, and my confidence has improved when working on objects.  I feel privelaged to have been part of CSI: Sittingbourne and hope that similar projects like this can be set up in the future.

The project benefits the local community as well, and being able to interact with the public so closely has been one of the best aspects for me.  Usually the profession is hidden, and in my opinion can sometimes be quite stuffy: CSI: Sittingbourne helps to break down this barrier and enlightens the public to the importance of the profession in society.  It is a pleasure to be part of this project and listening to the volunteers speaking confidently to the public about what they have learned during their time at CSI: Sittingbourne.


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