Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Crosby Garrett Helmet Leaves the Country

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Well, who wants to bet that the British Museum and the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle will be in the bidding for the stunning-now-reconstructed Roman parade helmet from Crosby Garrett? Along with a few other museums and collectors one suspects. When the hammer falls, who will get it? But then after the temporary export deferral takes effect and trhe buyer has the British people over a barrel, what will the final price be? We've recently seen a number of cases of (upward of course) manipulations of the price of an object once an export licence deferral is in place, forcing the Brits to pay out even more to keep in the country items like this which should never be available for purchase abroad. There was the Coenwulf mancus bought by a US dealer Allan Davisson and then "resold" on paper to a collector before he even had the coin in hand. Then there was the Cambridgeshire Rider, found by Duncan Pangbourn, the price of which almost doubled between its original sale and repurchase by the British people. Such cases (and I believe there are others) well illustrate that our current antiquity protection laws urgently need revision. Current policies are costing the British people a fortune and the money is going into the pockets of those that trade in the heritage.

I say let the Crosby Garrett helmet go abroad. Let it be an easily understood symbol for the people of the British Isles just how their archaeological heritage is being squandered by those who should be protecting it. Furthermore, I hope it goes to the furthest ends of the Earth so that any Brits who want to see it can put themselves for a moment in the place of all those citizens from "antiquities' source countries" who have difficuulty seeing their own region's archaeological heritage because it is hoarded away as (oh-so-culchural) trophies in western museums and personal collections.

Anyway, why does it matter? We have a one-page description of the object with seven zoomable piccies on the PAS database, which is more than most of the millions of archaeological finds hoiked out of archaeological assemblages and whipped away to scattered ephemeral private collections for entertainment and profit get. Why should the Crosby Garrett helmet stay in the country? Let Britain save the money and spend it on something more useful than 'saving for the cvountry' a now-contextless geegaw to be gaped at. Do I hear any objections? Why in this case and not in that of other archaeological artefacts? Because this one is "prettier" than other pieces of Roman military equipment ? What makes an isolated archaeological artefact "important"? (Not a rhetorical question).
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11 comments:

DR.KWAME OPOKU said...

We wish to thank you sincerely for the following statement:

"I say let the Crosby Garrett helmet go abroad. Let it be an easily understood symbol for the people of the British Isles just how their archaeological heritage is being squandered by those who should be protecting it. Furthermore, I hope it goes to the furthest ends of the Earth so that any Brits who want to see it can put themselves for a moment in the place of all those citizens from "antiquities' source countries" who have difficulty seeing their own region's archaeological heritage because it is hoarded away as (oh-so-culchural) trophies in western museums and personal collections."

Kwame Opoku

Heart of the wood said...

Just because the UK's antiquity laws are outdated is no reason to let the helmet leave the country! Arguing that it should go as far away as possible deprives the vast majority of interested Britons with no power to change the status quo.

The whole eye-for-an-eye response really doesn't move things on. We have moved on in our attitudes to the world's cultural heritage, and people should nopt be punished for the now-discrdited attitudes of their looting ancestors by some spiteful wish to see us deprived of our own heritage.

I lived in Crosby Garrett for seven years - the find is remarkable because there had never been any suggestion of a Roman presence there (although there was a fort relatively nearby). The find is remarkable in any case becase it is one of only three comparable objects ever found in Britain. Let's not cut off our Roman nose just to spite the government's face.

Paul Barford said...

Thank you both for your two (very different) comments.

Mr "Heart" your reaction is quite interesting, its OK for the Brits to sit on Dr Opoku's heritage stashed away in your museums (even in Edinburgh I suspect) but the moment the idea is proposed that something of "ours" should go abroad - heaven forbid !!

"Ours" - just what does that mean, this helmet is Roman ("foreigners") the object itself was probably imported (from "foreign lands" within the Empire) it is in a foreign style (Phrygian hat, I still say "Thracian" in feeling). A totally exotic object. What is "ours" in this case? Dug up (the bloke says) in your old village - but not in mine.

"deprives the vast majority of interested Britons with no power to change the status quo". THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT THE ENTIRE ANTIQUITIES TRADE (questions-asked, or no questions asked) DOES! It turns the archaeological heritage of somebody's village into a saleable commodity. I bet tekkie No-Name lives in the region he goes treasure-hoovering, just like the peasant 'subsistence diggers' (sic) in Bulgaria and Iraq and anywhere else similar looting goes on which produce the stuff I write about here. There is no difference, except you get agitated about this one geegaw because it is pretty and "yours" and not "theirs".

Either you support the free trade in antiquities, and therefore this can go to the "Sarah Palin Museum of Fine Art" in Anchorage, Alaska, or you say no, there are limits. And where are the limits and why? I say we cannot go on digging up willy nilly and then buying and selling archaeological finds as trophies or like so many pounds of potatoes.

It is rather defeatist to say you do not have the "power to change the status quo", make heritage issues more of a vote winner.

You say: "We have moved on in our attitudes to the world's heritage". No, no I do not think "we" have. We still have dealers in the US (and Europe too) fighting tooth and nail to keep selling stuff in the time-honoured no-questions-asked way just like in Petrarch's day. There is no "moving on" of attitudes there. None whatsoever. See the current discussion on the proposed Greece MOU.

Dr Opoku will tell you there has been little "moving on" either in the "encyclopaedeic" museum world. Cuno and mcGregor and others still think they live in the colonial world.

"Let's not cut off our Roman nose just to spite the government's face." I rather think it is your government that are cutting off YOUR noses by not doing something about the constant drain of your archaeological heritage to ephemeral scattered collections and the salesrooms.

This object is "pretty" and you want it, I see it as (in addition) just one piece of lost archaeological information among hundreds of thousands of others that are lost without a trace and without a murmer from people like you.

Heart of the wood said...

People like me?!

I am afraid I don't know Dr Opoku or the nature of his heritage, but assuming that he is not Scottish then any of that heritage probably ended up in Edinburgh museums as a result of the now-discredited attitudes of long-dead archaeological looters. I think those attitudes have changed for the better.

The Crosby Garrett helmet is different because it was brought here by a Roman cavalryman and left here. It illuminates a period of local history. I would regret the loss of it just as I would regret the loss of the hundreds of thousands of other pieces of archaeological or other historical information which you refer to. (However I'm also aware of the folly of saving every available scrap of archaeological evidence for posterity - there simply isn't the warehouse space for the entire surviving output of human existence!)

People like me, who are not archaeologists, historians or ethnographists but have an interest in archaeology, history and ethnography are grateful for the opportunity provided by archaeologists, historians and ethnograpers to see objects of beauty and interest in museums. I cannot afford to travel to Alaska, or (I suspect Dr Opoku's homeland, or even Poland. So I am grateful for what I can see here in Britain.

But people like me also acknowledge with regret that cultural heritage will never be at the heart of government policy: not in Britain, not while governments continue to sell off the family silver through privatisation and not during the recovery from the recession. And don't get me started on powerlessness and the power-grabbing result of the last general election!

I still think wishing Britain to be deprived of the helmet doesn't solve the problem of earlier Britons having deprived other countries of their own artefacts. However I realise that in commenting here I am joining a debate that has clearly been raging away without me and in which I am not up to speed - I came to the party as a former resident of Crosby Garrett, not as an archaeologist. However it sounds as if neither of us supports the current system which allows objects like the helmet to be traded internationally in the current way, and I suspect that because of that both of us, and people like us, would actually prefer to see the helmet remain in Britain, under a different system which places greater value on national cutural heritage.

Heart of the wood said...

I posted another (rather long!) comment, which got a Too Long error message from Google. If it doesn't get through, all I was trying to say is that people like me DO murmur, ARE grateful for the opportunity to see cultural artefacts of beauty and interest in museums and do NOT condone earlier attitudes of loot and pillage which may have brought them there. We are not archaeologists, historians or ethnogaphists, only people who admire the work of those people. I think we agree that the present system of world heritage trading is flawed, and to that extent I hope we can agree that actually it would be a good thing if the Crosby Garrett helmet did remain in the country under a system which placed more value on national heritage. The helmet, unlike some "foreign" artefacts, was brought here by a Roman cavalryman and left here. It illuminates a little understood period of local history - MY local history for seven years, perhaps as long as it was the Roman cavalryman's!

Damien Huffer said...

Great thread! You've made the point, Paul, that many of the rest of us archaeologists still have to fight to make when we do anti-looting outreach: Context lost is context lost, no matter the size, type, or manufacturing origin of the object. Authorities of SE Asian nations, for example, will wring their hands and plead for international help to get Angkorian, Sukkothai, or temple statuary repatriated, and are diligently trying to stop the export of real examples. Loot a burial ground and produce tons of small beads, metal goods etc., and watch how they vanish. "We need the (pitance) money we get," say the villagers, "our heritage begins during Buddhist times," say most local relevant authorities, "my mom would LOVE those shiny orange beads," say most local and foreign buyers; etc. Word on the SE Asian archaeo blogosphere documented in the last few days the destruction of yet another prehistoric earthen mound site in SE Cambodia, despite local outrage... And on it goes.

Paul Barford said...

"I posted another (rather long!) comment, which got a Too Long error message from Google". It's been doijng that a lot recently, but in fact the comment comes through.

Mo said...

There must be a limit to what can be sold in auctions and rare items should not be sold to the highest bidder.

What would happen if an artefact was discovered by a metal detector that proved beyond doubt the birthplace of Saint Patrick? He was of Roman British descent.

Lets suppose that this artefact fell into the same category as the helmet.Would this be sold? Under the current rule it would be sold.

The fact that Christies have restored this item so that they can squeeze the highest buck beggars belief. Surely they could have allowed it to be examined first.

So little is known about the auxillary soldiers that formed part of the Roman Army and we are just letting the evidence slip through our fingers.

It should not be about achieving the highest price for the artefact it is about what we can learn about these shadowy peoples that came to our shores and left their legacy.

There is a school of thought that they did not all go back to Rome and this can be evidenced in the DNA of people from the Borders.

There must surely be a change in the rules.

I hope that the funds are raised to keep this helmet.

Staffordshire raised enough to keep the hoard so good luck in keeping the helmet.

Paul Barford said...

"Surely they could have allowed it to be examined first." ah, but they did, it was with the PAS, remember? Any shortfall in the information about the object itself (like that iron strap) is the fault of the PAS.

"It should not be about achieving the highest price for the artefact it is about what we can learn about these shadowy peoples..." but that is not how the antiquities trade works, they only want people to think that they are somehow increasing knowledge about the past when in fact a large part of the trade is totally and utterly destructive of the archaeological record.


"I hope that the funds are raised to keep this helmet. How about Christie's withdraw it from the auction and offer it to the BM or Tullie House for the estimate? Or all the dealers and all the collectors of the world make a pact not to bid a red cent for it so the local museum can acqire it for a minimal price?

What actually is the bidding for since it is pretty certain that whatever it goes for, the BM will have to fork out that sum plus a bit more to keep it in the country? Who is the winner and who the loser? "Only doing it out of interest of history"? Really?

Gayle said...

Treasure Trove in Scotland

The Crown can claim, on behalf of the nation, any object or coin found in Scotland under the laws of bona vacantia.

These laws apply to all newly discovered finds and to all old finds which have not been reported, whether they have been found by metal detecting, by chance, by fieldwalking or by archaeological excavation.

Finders have no ownership rights to any find they make in Scotland and all finds, with the exception of Victorian and 20th century coins, must be reported to the Treasure Trove Unit for assessment.

http://www.treasuretrovescotland.co.uk/index.asp

Why doesn't this apply in England and Wales. If it did museums wouldn't be trying to raise money from the public to keep English and Welsh finds in this country. The law needs changing. Some metal detectarists are only in it for the money and have no interest in the heritage of this country.

Mo said...

Paul,

I am also surprised that the person who made the initial decision regarding the helmet acted purely by the book.

Surely with this level of artefact there should be some judgment allowed.

Is it really a Roman Helmet? It does look more like it could have belonged to an auxillary soldier. There were many of these in that area.

There were graves found at Brougham and from what I have read no conclusion was made as to the ethnicity of these people. There were women buried as warriors, which suggests Sarmatians however the burial rites were not Sarmatian.

The helmet does not look Sarmatian. It does not look like the helmet on the Chester funeral stele.


Of course if everything is sold we will never be able to piece this together.

I agree with your sentiments however I think that the process is too far down the line to change for this artefact

 
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