Tuesday, 14 September 2010

More on the Crosby Garrett Helmet

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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, in the absence of firm and verifiable information, can it actually be ruled out that it was originally found there. I therefore repeat the rhetorical 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 for sure that 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 kosher 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 and affirmation of ownership. 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)

7 comments:

Roger Bland said...

Since you are repeating your groundless assertions about this find, PAS is happy to put our involvement in it on the record.

The finder contacted Sally Worrell, National Finds Adviser in PAS (not the local FLO), in late May to tell her about the find and she saw the helmet and met the finder at Christie's on the day that he took it to Christie's (4th June). He had already been in touch with Christie's and other dealers quite soon after its discovery in May and the object was left with Christie's and their restorer from then on. At no point was the object in the care of PAS (or the British Museum).

Sally Worrell stressed to the finder the importance of knowing the precise findspot which the finder is initially reluctant to give. She also asked the finder to allow the local museum to acquire it, but the finder declined stating that the landowner wished to sell it at auction. Sally and Ralph Jackson, Curator of Romano-British collections at the British Museum, who subsequently examined the helmet at Christie’s and wrote a report on it which is published at http://www.finds.org.uk/news/stories/article/id/195, both asked Christie's not to restore it, but they declined.

On 30 Aug., after lengthy telephone conversations with Sally, the finder showed Dot Boughton and Stuart Noon, joint Finds Liaison Officers for Cumbria and Lancashire, the findspot in Crosby Garrett. There is still evidence for the hole dug in the ground and the FLOs observe that the field contains traces of earthworks (which of course cannot be dated). The findspot is within 300m of a Roman road. 50 other objects have been recorded by PAS from the parish, including three other Roman finds.

Christie's asked for the PAS reference number but we declined to record it until we were satisfied that we had a precise findspot. We stressed to Christie's that no museum could consider buying it without that information and without assurance that the object was being sold with the agreement of the landowner.

The finder has not previously reported finds to PAS, but his father has. He is an unemployed former student and it seems incredible that he could have bought this find in Europe and have gone to this trouble to give it a false UK provenance. Apart from anything else, if he had bought it abroad, he could easily have sold it in the UK as a foreign find. As it is, he is selling it with the agreement of the landowner and is sharing the proceeds with him.

Of course we could have declined to have had anything to do with this find, in which case it would still have come on the market but without a good provenance and no museum could have considered acquiring it. We have said on the record that we regret that the finder offered the find to Christie's rather than to a museum and also that we regretted the decision to restore it.

As for the suggestion that the helmet has a different patina from other finds recorded by PAS from the parish, this is not relevant. First, the helmet has been completely restored by Christie’s so that its external appearance now is very different from when it was found. Secondly, the comment is made comparing images shot at different times, in different lighting conditions. Thirdly, the other objects with which it is being compared were found in a different part of the parish.
(To continue)

Portable said...

Since you are repeating your groundless assertions about this find, PAS is happy to put our involvement in it on the record.

The finder contacted Sally Worrell, National Finds Adviser in PAS (not the local FLO), in late May to tell her about the find and she saw the helmet and met the finder at Christie's on the day that he took it to Christie's (4th June). He had already been in touch with Christie's and other dealers quite soon after its discovery in May and the object was left with Christie's and their restorer from then on. At no point was the object in the care of PAS (or the British Museum).

Sally Worrell stressed to the finder the importance of knowing the precise findspot which the finder is initially reluctant to give. She also asked the finder to allow the local museum to acquire it, but the finder declined stating that the landowner wished to sell it at auction. Sally and Ralph Jackson, Curator of Romano-British collections at the British Museum, who subsequently examined the helmet at Christie’s and wrote a report on it which is published at http://www.finds.org.uk/news/stories/article/id/195, both asked Christie's not to restore it, but they declined.

On 30 Aug., after lengthy telephone conversations with Sally, the finder showed Dot Boughton and Stuart Noon, joint Finds Liaison Officers for Cumbria and Lancashire, the findspot in Crosby Garrett. There is still evidence for the hole dug in the ground and the FLOs observe that the field contains traces of earthworks (which of course cannot be dated). The findspot is within 300m of a Roman road. 50 other objects have been recorded by PAS from the parish, including three other Roman finds.

Portable said...

Christie's asked for the PAS reference number but we declined to record it until we were satisfied that we had a precise findspot. We stressed to Christie's that no museum could consider buying it without that information and without assurance that the object was being sold with the agreement of the landowner.

The finder has not previously reported finds to PAS, but his father has. He is an unemployed former student and it seems incredible that he could have bought this find in Europe and have gone to this trouble to give it a false UK provenance. Apart from anything else, if he had bought it abroad, he could easily have sold it in the UK as a foreign find. As it is, he is selling it with the agreement of the landowner and is sharing the proceeds with him.

Of course we could have declined to have had anything to do with this find, in which case it would still have come on the market but without a good provenance and no museum could have considered acquiring it. We have said on the record that we regret that the finder offered the find to Christie's rather than to a museum and also that we regretted the decision to restore it.

As for the suggestion that the helmet has a different patina from other finds recorded by PAS from the parish, this is not relevant. First, the helmet has been completely restored by Christie’s so that its external appearance now is very different from when it was found. Secondly, the comment is made comparing images shot at different times, in different lighting conditions. Thirdly, the other objects with which it is being compared were found in a different part of the parish.

The suggestion that this helmet was not found in Cumbria reminds me of unwillingness of some archaeologists to believe that the Mildenhall treasure was found in Suffolk, because nothing like it had previously been found in Britain, so that a fantastic suggestion was put forward that it had been found by US servicemen in North Africa who had then redeposited in England. Similarly, some archaeologists even tried to suggest that the Staffordshire hoard was not found in a field near Lichfield, despite the existence of film on the web showing archaeologists from Birmingham Archaeology excavating it. This helmet was found in north Britain, in the military zone, where the two other similar helmets from Ribchester and Newstead have been found. The work by our FLO already shows that there is a possible context for this object, which could be taken further if it is possible to carry out further work on the findspot.

Unlike Mr Barford, PAS does not start from the point of view that `detectorists are selfish oiks’ (to quote his original posting on the helmet). We believe that detectorists who report finds to us are human beings who deserve to be treated with respect and that we are more likely to gain the information that we all want to obtain by working with them than by publicly denouncing them when they have not broken any law.
As I have said elsewhere, we regret that the finder and landowner were not willing to offer this find directly to Tullie House museum and that Christie’s have restored it before it could be scientifically examined. However, both the finder and the landowner have acted within their rights. Without the work put in by Sally Worrell, Dot Boughton and Stuart Noon the precise findspot would not have been determined and no museum could have considered acquiring. We are working with Tullie House museum to support their appeal to secure the object for their museum for public benefit.

Portable said...

Christie's asked for the PAS reference number but we declined to record it until we were satisfied that we had a precise findspot. We stressed to Christie's that no museum could consider buying it without that information and without assurance that the object was being sold with the agreement of the landowner.

The finder has not previously reported finds to PAS, but his father has. He is an unemployed former student and it seems incredible that he could have bought this find in Europe and have gone to this trouble to give it a false UK provenance. Apart from anything else, if he had bought it abroad, he could easily have sold it in the UK as a foreign find. As it is, he is selling it with the agreement of the landowner and is sharing the proceeds with him.

Of course we could have declined to have had anything to do with this find, in which case it would still have come on the market but without a good provenance and no museum could have considered acquiring it. We have said on the record that we regret that the finder offered the find to Christie's rather than to a museum and also that we regretted the decision to restore it.

As for the suggestion that the helmet has a different patina from other finds recorded by PAS from the parish, this is not relevant. First, the helmet has been completely restored by Christie’s so that its external appearance now is very different from when it was found. Secondly, the comment is made comparing images shot at different times, in different lighting conditions. Thirdly, the other objects with which it is being compared were found in a different part of the parish.

Portable said...

The suggestion that this helmet was not found in Cumbria reminds me of unwillingness of some archaeologists to believe that the Mildenhall treasure was found in Suffolk, because nothing like it had previously been found in Britain, so that a fantastic suggestion was put forward that it had been found by US servicemen in North Africa who had then redeposited in England. Similarly, some archaeologists even tried to suggest that the Staffordshire hoard was not found in a field near Lichfield, despite the existence of film on the web showing archaeologists from Birmingham Archaeology excavating it. This helmet was found in north Britain, in the military zone, where the two other similar helmets from Ribchester and Newstead have been found. The work by our FLO already shows that there is a possible context for this object, which could be taken further if it is possible to carry out further work on the findspot.

Unlike Mr Barford, PAS does not start from the point of view that `detectorists are selfish oiks’ (to quote his original posting on the helmet). We believe that detectorists who report finds to us are human beings who deserve to be treated with respect and that we are more likely to gain the information that we all want to obtain by working with them than by publicly denouncing them when they have not broken any law.
As I have said elsewhere, we regret that the finder and landowner were not willing to offer this find directly to Tullie House museum and that Christie’s have restored it before it could be scientifically examined. However, both the finder and the landowner have acted within their rights. Without the work put in by Sally Worrell, Dot Boughton and Stuart Noon the precise findspot would not have been determined and no museum could have considered acquiring. We are working with Tullie House museum to support their appeal to secure the object for their museum for public benefit.

Dan (on behalf of Roger Bland) - using PAS google ID

heritageaction said...

Perhaps Parliament and archaeologists should read this recent story from Denmark.

http://www.dr.dk/Nyheder/Indland/2010/09/07/212913.htm

Mo said...

Surely in the case of a significant find a judgmental decision could have been made on the artefact.

Sooner or later a find will be made of immense historic importance and it will not meet the criteria.

The system need to change to allow common sense to prevail.

 
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