Conserving Roman coins

Seaton Down Haord coins being conservedThe treatment of a Roman coin is not normally daunting for an experienced archaeological conservator. It is almost a routine treatment. It involves cleaning the surface by mechanical means, for example with a small scalpel blade or wooden satay stick, under magnification. This removes most of the soil and corrosion products and, depending on the condition of the coin, reveals the surface detail that is left.

Cleaning a hoard of 23,000 coins, however, is a completely different matter. There have been several discussions and articles in the conservation world about how to deal with large find numbers. Very often with projects like this, there are not only a huge number of coins, but also the constraints of deadlines and resources. To clean coins more quickly chemical treatment methods, like immersing coins in diluted acids, are used. Chemical processes can be quite difficult to control and there is a danger of removing important information by accident.


Conserving the Seaton Down Hoard

close up of conserving a coinFor the Seaton Down Hoard we have chosen a very different approach putting an emphasis on community engagement rather than on the conservation of each individual coin. We will offer workshops for mainly A-level students and other community groups, for example metal-detectorists, to help us mechanically clean about 1% of the hoard. This will help us to promote the importance of and the skills involved in the conservation of archaeological metal finds.

The 1% of coins chosen for the conservation workshops are a representative sample of the variants found within the hoard like the different mints and emperors. Work on the remaining 99% of the hoard have already received preliminary cleaning at the British Museum and so further work will be confined to making sure that they are chemically stable enough that, when on display, they won’t actively corrode.

Coins awaiting conservationWe hope with this innovative way of making the Seaton Down Hoard accessible we will not only engage the public, but also make the hoard an interesting focus for research.