Monday, 11 October 2010

Crosby Garrett: If it wasn't for a Metal Detectorist...

Candice Jarman, Hampshire secretary and artefact collector is angered by any attempt to discuss the shortcomings of the British system of "preservation" of the archaeological record with reference to the Crosby Garrett fiasco:
I was furious when I read Barford's blog - if it wasn't for a metal detectorist, the Crosby Garrett helmet would still be rotting in the ground and would be completely unknown to us. If Christies [...] had not restored it, then we would never have seen its true beauty - just because it's not in a museum now, does n't mean it never will be!
Well, I am really not as sure as Ms Jarman that we can see any evidence from the photos that the object had been "rotting" particularly rapidly over the past two thousand years in the ground wherever it had originally been deposited. Since (according to the PAS) it was recovered from "heathland" in Cumbria, was not being affected by those two old tekkie excuses "plough damage and artificial fertilisers". So actually it could have lain in the ground a bit longer, increasing the chance that when eventually it was removed from where it was safely lying, it might be under better conditions allowing us to better understand its context of deposition.

If Christie's had instead of quickly restoring it (according to Dr Jackson of the British Museum who saw it 'part way' through restoration, leaving the soil accretions on below the green paint) done a proper analysis and conservation project we'd see a lot more of the "beauty" of the object because we'd understand it better. But that takes time and proper lab facilities. I suspect that what "Fugitive ink" wrote on the matter of that "beauty" went right over Ms Jarman's head.

John Hooker answered her:
I agree about the helmet, it will last a lot longer than its new owner --so even if it does not become a museum exhibit right away, it will probably end up in one someday.
That really depends on the conservation treatment applied by Christie's before the green paint. Properly curated in a modern museum, its condition would be continually monitored by professionals; as flashy decoration in the summer cottage of some rich collector that is much less likely. The question of how long it will remain beautiful or even intact depends on the conditions to which it is subjected during display in somebody's home or office, and above all how many chlorides (among other things) were left with the "soil accretions" under the polyfilla and green paint by the over-hasty "restoration" process in order to get it from fresh out of the ground and onto the auction block as soon as possible.

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