Derek Fincham tries to discuss the Crosby Garrett helmet which he asserts "was discovered in 33 fragments, face down in the mud on a Roman road". The number of fragments was greater and it was not lying on a "Roman road" - what he can see on the Google map picture he put on his blog is a railway line. In fact we really do not know where it was found.
I have yet to see an answer to the question what steps the PAS took to verify that the finder found it where he said he did before they created the record which is now the basis of the Christie's sales spiel. Several military buffs have independently echoed my "Balkan" associations (see the Roman Army Talk forum).
it is interesting to note that of the six known helmets of the Silistra-Type (to which the mask would belong [in Junkelmann's typology, part of Robinson's CSB]) two are from Bulgaria (Chatalka-CSB12 and Silistra-CSB06), two said to be from Bulgaria (Ex-Guttmann AG 449 and AG 813 [CSB08]), one from Serbia (Smederovo-CSB25) and one from the Netherlands (Roomburgh-CSB07). So it cannot be ruled out that the Crosby Garrett helmet perhaps was manufactured in Eastern Europe.Nor can it be ruled out that it was found there. I therefore repeat the question: since the find is of a type rare in Britain, comes from an unlikely findspot and has corrosion products unlike those of local finds, how do we know the PAS is not being used here to 'launder' a 'hot' find from elsewhere? Why does the PAS not want to answer the question of the steps they took to verify the claim? (I wrote last week to Roger Bland, the Lancs and Cumbria FLO and Sally Worrell the finds specialist responsible for this record. None of them have so far replied on this issue).
Fincham is a great fan of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and from that point of view sees this case as a "a troubling result in many ways". Why? Because "this object was cleaned for sale by Christie's. We do not know anything about the deposits left on the helmet, or how the helmet was abandoned in pieces along an old Roman road". Eh? So who does Fincham think cleans all of the finds that get shown to the PAS? Well, certainly not always Christie's. Nor the PAS. Mostly the cleaning is done by detectorists Baz, Digga, Steve, Tozza and Bert with Worcester sauce or their electrolytic stripping kits. There's not much we can find out about any deposits left on them by their burial environment after that. Also of course Baz, Digga, Steve, Tozza and Bert rarely bring the PAS anything except loose finds, like the Crosby Garrett sheet fragments, no records of how these pieces had been deposited in one archaeological assemblage or another. The situation of the Crosby Garrett which Fincham decries is precisely comparable to the situation of 99% of the metal detected finds received for "recording" by the PAS. This is one of the fundamental problems of trying to treat artefact hunting as some kind of ersatz archaeology.
No, the problem is not that Christies did the cleaning, the problem is that some young bloke hoiked out over sixty pieces of ancient bronze sheet with no record of where they lay with respect to each other, what else was in the vicinity. When he "reported it" to the PAS it was already in pieces and already out of the ground, and according to what other metal detectorists say, the finder was not even at the beginning willing to admit where the object was from. As any "responsible detectorist" will tell you, there is no point in reporting finds to the PAS without the findspots, which rather makes his visit to the PAS pointless (and perhaps the PAS will tell us what else this person has recorded with the PAS and under what circumstances).
It looks very much to me like the "reporting" was done to get an ooo-ahhh report from the PAS to authenticate it as a British find which does not however come under the Treasure Act (as I am sure the finder was aware the moment he grabbed the first bits - only as long as he took care not to find any associated copper alloy objects). His motive seems quite transparent, authentification. Within weeks of leaving the PAS office, it was down in London, tarted up and on sale at Christie's and one of the selling points was the PAS report (the number of which Christies's was aware of before the record was published on the PAS website). Personally it seems to me that the "partnership" of the PAS with the antiquities market was far too close in this case.
Here is Georgiana Aitken of Christie's discussing it:
''This helmet is the discovery of a lifetime for a metal detectorist. 'When it was initially brought to Christie's and I examined it at first-hand, I saw this extraordinary face from the past staring back at me and I could scarcely believe my eyes".
Photo: An employee of Christie’s auction house stands behind the Crosby Garrett Helmet in London (Dan Kitwood for Getty Images)