Thursday, 4 November 2010

Crosby Garrett New Photo, New Questions

The Crosby Garrett story gets "curiouser and curiouser" as they say. Readers might remember me going on and on and on about discrepancies in the story (stories) about the discovery of this object. Just as we thought we could move on... another photo has appeared on the PAS database. I'll not reproduce it here as (unlike the rest) it is carefully labelled "Copyright Christie's" but here's the link. Here we can see the various bits of the helmet laid out on raw and DIRTY COTTON WOOL in a flat cardboard box. There is a woman's hand on the left hand side and above it a label with a Christie's number and bar code on it.

From this photo, we can at last see what was actually found and how the bits fitted together (see my earlier discussion on the basis of the photos that were available in the public domain at that time). I'd like now to draw attention to the metal (copper alloy?) rod in the top right corner. What is that? Was it found at the same spot as the helmet fragments and the detached griffin? Where is it now?

The PAS record is notoriously lacking in any detail about who took what photos when. My guess is that this photo ("SAM_0345 Christie's copyright.jpg) was supplied by Christie's (at the PAS' request?) after the database record was put up and was being discussed (here among other places) and shows the object as it came to them. If that is so, the steel shelves in the background then are Christie's office furniture (or maybe their mysterious "restorer's"). The dates of the taking of these photos is not included in the (published) metadata accompanying these images. The PAS record notes that alone among the photos displayed on that page, the "date of capture" of this image was "Monday 6th September 2010". The metadata of the top five photos on the PAS website shows they were taken by a Nikon Coolpix S52 and were all captured on 9th September. The two below it of the restored helmet were captured on the 7th September.

The additional photo for the first time clearly shows (right side of the shot) the crushed helmet and the amount of reshaping needed to effect a "restoration". So when were the photos taken which accompany the PAS record that show the 'original state' of the helmet? Here the fragments have already been unbent. At what stage in the object's restoration was the object seen by Sally Worrell? Was the "restoration" being carried out in Christie's London office which is how the PAS were able to inspect and "record" the object already part way through the restoration process (which is when the PAS' photos I discussed here earlier were taken)? or was the object restored outside London and brought back so they could be shown to the PAS and photographed with the Nikon? Whose camera is the Nikon? If the latter, this really casts the involvement of the PAS in setting up this sale in a very bad light.

This is all very confusing and only goes to reinforce the impression that we have still not been told the full story of the Crosby Garrett debacle, and I think the onus is on the PAS to be more transparent about the course of events in which the PAS and BM legitimisation of the object played such a part.

Vignette: Whose is this Nikon?


Anonymous said...

Do you happen to know if any information has turned up about whether the helmet was found by itself, or in association with anything else (human remains, other items, etc)? It seems remarkable that, in an age where almost everyone's phone has a decent camera attached, there isn't a single snap of the object(s) being removed from the ground. Weird.

That photo certainly has strengthened my earlier doubts about whether the handsome thing at Christie's was in fact a miraculously preserved treasure of ancient artwork or, alternatively, something skilfully constructed in 2010 out of found materials.

The whole Crosby Garrett story really is fascinating. It has opened my eyes to a lot of issues regarding the sale of antiquities - I am trying to write something about this now, although it may take while. Still, I am quite happy to express a preliminary view that in this case Christie's really have not behaved at all well.

(Personally, I think the PAS are in a much more difficult position, the terms of the scheme itself meaning that they are 'damned if they do and damned if they don't' - but your own views on that are at least very clear, and my own research is ongoing.)

Paul Barford said...

Hi, thanks for looking in again. Well, the fact is I was being a bit naughty in this post. The "official" story is that the object was found alone in the hole. That way it is not a "hoard" and therefore cannot be Treasure - which is where our problems begin, but makes the would-be seller's life much simpler. NOW it turns out that in the box with the bits was apparently at least part of one other object (the photo is too blurry to say what). As I have written here before I do have serious doubts whether that griffin belongs, and is not another item. This question has not been resolved by the statements in the "official" story. Yes, it would be odd that no photos were taken by the finder at the time of his "find of a lifetime". So if there are any they are being suppressed. Why? If you look somewhere in the past couple of days I note that on one forum people were saying that such a photo WAS published (which I did not see) but was quickly deleted. Odd again, no?

Indeed, the squashed up and broken off bits of metal we see in that photo can in fact be reconstructed a number of ways. I would hope that a conservator worth his salt has photos of the various attempts made to reconstruct the bits (setting them on a 3d temporary support as one does) showing which versions were rejected and why. That is however an academic question because nobody has seen any such report.

"The whole Crosby Garrett story really is fascinating. It has opened my eyes to a lot of issues regarding the sale of antiquities " The issues have been clear for a long time I feel, the point is it takes something like this to make them more widely obvious. So please do have a close look and bear in mind it is a microcosm of what is happening on a huge scale every week of the year and has been going on since the 1970s. And British archaeologists are helpless (or is the word hopeless?).

Paul Barford said...

"Personally, I think the PAS are in a much more difficult position, the terms of the scheme itself meaning that they are 'damned if they do and damned if they don't' You are quite right of course and to some extent they have my sympathy because they really have painted themselves into a corner. But then its like traffic police, are they there to help prevent accidents or just to show the public how quickly and efficiently they can get the mess off the roads when they happen?

The AIA in America has a code of ethics that would prevent anyone from the PAS going along to the auction house to see this thing and getting involved, even unwittingly, in such a sale.

The terms of the Scheme however DO NOT mean they HAVE to get involved in such debacles. They can say no, we support responsible artefact hunting, which means XYZ. There is a code of practice for that, and were Mr Finder(s) and Mr Flogitoff the farmer abiding by it? Well, who knows, because the circumstances of the find are unknown. What we do know is that the PAS were only called in when the object was not only in the saleroom, but also half way (it seems now) through being "restored". That is not responsible artefact hunting, it is not responsible handling of antiquities, and yes, Christie's does have a lot to answer for, but of course they never do.

So I say the PAS should have had the guts to say no. The finder would have a hard time explaining why he'd not gone to the PAS instead of the PAS now having a hard time trying to avoid answering the question quite what it thought it was doing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the helpful reply, especially re the posted but now deleted photo of the find in situ. I wonder whether it will surface again someday?

As for the broader issues raised by Crosby Garrett - because you obviously take a great interest in these matters, they are very clear to you, but I honestly do think that most people - even people who take a sort of 'casual generalist' interest in history, archaeology, the art auction scene etc - simply take these stories of 'treasure found' or 'object saved for the nation' at face value, with no idea that there might be considerably more complicated issues underlying them. C.f. this, presented as an unproblematic, feel-good story, and doubtless read that way by most people who will ever notice it. The idea that anything has been lost literally will not occur to them.

Whereas, the more one reads about Crosby Garrett, the harder it is to ignore the conflicting interests, the difficulties with the existing law, the shady behaviour of private dealers and auction houses when it comes to antiquities. I somehow doubt there are easy answers, but at least Crosby Garrett may have encouraged a few of us late-comers to this issue to ask a few more pertinent questions.

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.