After two years of waiting to find out what is inside the hoard we've finally begun removing coins. This week we reached the point were we felt that the laser scanning, replica making and photographic surveying had recorded the untouched hoard as well as we possibly could. We were also confident that we'd mastered all aspects of the scanner use so we were finally able to start the taking apart of the hoard.
We began on one of the long upper edges where we knew there was a lot of organic material from the time of the hoard's burial. We used the scanner to record the position of each coin on a computer 3D map and then gently removed it with a hand tool. This worked well and we were able to gather a lot of the organics which will be sent of for analysis later. Once removed, the coins were treated with formic acid and this provided our first surprise. Even though most of these new coins were only a centimetre or less from the hoard surface, they turned out to be in much better condition than the coins we'd seen so far. Some of them had their original metal surfaces visible even before treatment and all of them needed less than 30 minutes in the acid, compared to several hours with the previous coins.
We were also lucky to have two visitors in the lab to see this new phase of the work. Marilyn Hockey and Pippa Pearce of the British Museum Conservation Department have been advising and helping us for some time but it was their first chance to actually come over and see the hoard in the flesh. it was great to be able to compare notes with them and to show them how we were using the scanner for our recording work.
Now that we have begun actually "digging in" we should be coming up with surprises fairly often so keep tuned and we'll let you know what we find.