Conservation of the Saxon lyre from Prittlewell

Work on the remains of the Prittewell lyre (© MoLAS)

Clients: Southend on Sea Borough Council and English Heritage

Authors: Liz Barham and Liz Goodman

Continuing conservation work during 2005 on the lyre which was lifted from the Anglo-Saxon chamber grave at Prittlewell (see previous report) has revealed new information about the form, dimensions and components of this rare survival. The artefact consists of a thin layer of very decayed wood with corroded metal fittings on a thick block of sand. It is the first of this period to have been excavated and lifted in the UK with all its fittings still in their original positions and the main dimensions of its structure still discernable.

The recording process has been detailed and thorough, prior to the careful dismantling of surviving structural remains which was necessary in order to conserve individual wood and metal components. The whole lyre was CT-scanned ? using a scanner out of work hours at a local hospital! As a result it has been possible to view and record the remains in-situ in three dimensions, and locate fittings, including part of a tensioning ‘tail-piece’ which held the strings in place, that could not be picked up using conventional X-ray techniques. The lyre remains were also laser-scanned on both faces by Plowman Craven Associates as a topographical record of the surface of the remains.

Besides their value as part of the archaeological record, both sets of scan-data and the photographic records could be digitally combined in the future for display purposes. MoLAS Conservation has been working with SGI, a company specialising in image volumisation, to enable Southend Museum to plan an interactive presentation of the lyre as part of their future displays.

This site report is extracted from MoLAS 2005: annual review

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