Press Release: Conservation students assist the Novium Museum with research on North Bersted Man for major exhibition

The School of Conservation at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation recently welcomed students to a brand new facility for science teaching and research in support of conservation and one of the first major projects they are working on is in collaboration with The Novium Museum in Chichester, for their nationally important exhibition Mystery Warrior: The North Bersted Man (January 25 – September 26, 2020).

The exhibition at The Novium Museum in closeby Chichester reveals the secrets of an Iron Age warrior, who may have fought alongside King Commius during Julius Caesar's wars with the Gauls. The 'Mystery Warrior' was discovered 12 years ago by Thames Valley Archaeological Services Ltd, during archaeological investigations, prior to the construction of Berkley Homes' Bersted Park. Arguably the most elaborately equipped warrior grave ever found in the UK, archaeologists believe he was a refugee French Gallic fighter who fled Julius Caesar's Roman Army as they swept across continental Europe around 50BC.

To support the exhibition and help glean further important information about the warrior and particularly his helmet, several staff and students from West Dean and the X-ray fluorescence spectrometer (XRF) from the new Science Lab went to the Collections Discovery Centre at Fishbourne Roman Palace, where The Novium Museum stores its archaeology collection, to assist with the analysis.

Robert Mitchell, MA Conservation Studies student specialising in Metals said: “It was great to collaborate with The Novium Museum on such an important find. To be able to contribute to the project with the use of  the XRF to give the first elemental analysis of the piece has been great. We have been able to give answers to the questions they asked and contribute to the wider knowledge of Iron Age bronze work in Britain. Overall it has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience for all involved.”

While Carola Del Mese, studying for her Graduate Diploma Conservation Studies noted: “The opportunity to work with The Novium Museum, examining the helmet from The Mystery Warrior Iron Age burial has been fascinating. The helmet itself is a spectacular and unique find, so I feel very privileged to be involved with this part of the discovery process. We used the XRF machine to analyse various parts of the headdress, and from the findings we were able to confirm that the decorative lattices are bronze, and the support spindles are a considerably different alloy, with a higher lead content to enable casting. Our findings will help to place The Mystery Warrior in the Iron Age landscape, and as a unique find, will add to our general knowledge of the time. The project continues and we will be examining the actual helmet shortly to see whether the theory that it is Roman, fits with the analysis.”

Amy Roberts, Collections Officer at The Novium Museum, said: “We are delighted to have been able to collaborate with staff and students at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation on this special project to further our understanding of the breathtaking weaponry with which the Mystery Warrior was buried. The findings will help us to determine the relationship between the objects and will add another dimension to the already fascinating story of the Mystery Warrior.”

As Dr. Eric Nordgren, Science Liaison Conservator and Subject Leader, Metals Conservation, School of Conservation, West Dean College, said: “The new science lab features considerably more space for laboratory teaching and analytical work than was previously available, dedicated workspaces for analytical equipment and room to grow as new capabilities are added in the future. Laboratory-grade flooring and work surfaces have been installed throughout, and upgraded seating, lighting, electric power, IT connectivity and laboratory sink complete the space.  The new lab will allow for more effective practical lab teaching in support of science units in Graduate Diploma and MA Conservation programs.  Our MA students will have enhanced facilities to carry out their Masters Dissertation research.  It will also help to support West Dean’s academic staff to conduct research in the fields of conservation or heritage science.”

He continued: “Two new pieces of analytical equipment have recently been added to the lab, a Q-Lab XE1-B light ageing chamber and a Zwick-Roell 5kN Universal Testing Machine, also known as a Tensometer. The Tensometer was purchased with a generous grant from the Hedley Foundation, and has already been used to support 3 MA student projects.  Recently, The Hedley Foundation have generously provided a further grant to allow the purchase of additional tooling for the Tensometer, allowing the tensile testing of irregular and offset samples.”

West Dean College of Arts and Conservation has an international reputation and is a full partner of the University of Sussex. Students with an interest in studying conservation are invited to the College’s Open Day on Saturday 8 February and can find more details on www.westdean.ac.uk.

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The ‘Mystery Warrior: The North Bersted Man’ exhibition opens on the 25 January 2020 at The Novium Museum in Tower Street, Chichester, and runs until 26 September 2020.  People can find out more about the exhibition and accompanying events by visiting www.thenovium.org, calling 01243 775888 or emailing thenovium@chichester.gov.uk

Notes to editors

  • West Dean College of Arts and Conservation was founded in 1971 by the poet and Surrealist patron, Edward James, recognised by BBC Arts as the ‘the greatest patron of art of the early 20th century’.
  • The College is part of The Edward James Foundation (Charity No. 1126084), also comprising West Dean Gardens, West Dean Estate and West Dean Tapestry Studio.
  • All photography is free to use for editorial purposes.
  • West Dean College is situated on the A286, six miles north of Chichester and within easy access of Portsmouth, Guildford, Brighton and London.
  • The Novium Museum was purpose built over the remains of Chichester’s Roman Bathhouse and opened to the public in 2012. For more information on the museum and Mystery Warrior: The North Bersted Man exhibition please visit www.thenovium.org.

    For all media enquiries please contact Rachel Aked:
    Email: rachel.aked@westdean.org.uk
    Telephone: 07790 732448

    West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, Chichester, West Sussex, PO18 OQZ