Treatment and analysis

The conservators cleaned it with tap water, using soft brushes and cotton wool swabs to remove soil from inside the tubes. The wood was waterlogged and required stabilisation treatment before it could be dried out safely.

An accurate drawing was made of the object to record its exact dimensions and condition at this stage.

The wood species was identified as box (Buxus buxus) and the object was finally revealed as an incomplete wooden syrinx, or panpipes, which would, amazingly, still play notes top A to top E.

Richard Hall playing the pipes

Comparison of the range of the York syrinx with similar instruments found at Alesia and Shakenoak

A colleague at the University of York made a recording of the notes prior to treatment, in case any shrinkage of the wood altered the sound. Then the pipes were stabilised, which involved immersion in a low grade polyethylene glycol (p.e.g.) solution for seven months followed by freeze drying. The result was a pleasant, light-coloured surface with less than 5% shrinkage during drying. The condition of the surface was improved by applying a harder p.e.g. solution. This was then melted into two small cracks which were causing two of the notes not to sound properly. This produced a slightly darker but much livelier surface.

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