Monday 11 April 2011

The Amateurish Destruction of World History by Britain at Crosby Garrett

An intriguing text by arts journalist Souren Melikian about the Crosby Garret helmet ('The Destruction of History') has just come out in the April 2011 issue of Art+ Auction magazine, now accessible online. The basic thesis is that the object is of Sassanian workmanship (which I do not accept) and raises the question of how it got to where it was found. Oddly, in the context of the article's main thesis, it does not discuss whether it was actually found where it was reputed to have been found. Melikian does not have too good a word for British laws on artefact hunting...
The piece[...] was found by an amateur at a site that was disturbed in the rough digging process instead of being recorded in detail. [...] If ever there was an instance of inept legislation granting legitimacy to what is effectively the destruction of an archaeological context, this is it. The British media chorus [...] implicitly accepting the notion that digging for the purpose of treasure hunting is okay. Reports deplored the loss of the helmet to the region where it had been unearthed, but not a word was said about the far greater tragedy incurred by what may be called Britain’s underground records of history. [...] The surrounding terrain [...] should have been very carefully investigated. Apparently it was not.[...] Whatever the location, each properly recorded discovery yields invaluable information to world history.
The article discusses the place of manufacture of the Crosby Garrett helmet, invoking a series of parallels completely ignored by the ('Universalist') British Museum's PAS in their own write-up of the object and then finishes with a flourish:
A law that [...] ignores the proper preservation of buried archives cannot be right. The notion of discovering a "treasure trove" is suitable for Boy Scouts but is absurd for anyone concerned with culture and knowledge. The amateurish digging up of artifacts from the ancient past is as unconscionable as burning the Amazon rainforest. It is high time for international agreements to be hashed out about the archeological ecology of our world. As the saying goes, we are all in it together.
And we are all the losers as the result of Britain's boy scout heritage mismanagement laws.


Mo said...

A very interesting article.

I could never understand why this helmet was treated as an isolated find.

I'm not qualified to comment on the style of the helmet but I have mentioned before the ethnicity of the soldiers that were serving in that area (both male and female).

There is a tombstone that was found at Brough (not far from Crosby Garrett) of Hermes of Commagene. I think that it is now in the FitzWilliam museum.

The Tombstone is inscribed in Greek.

"Let some traveller, on seeing Hermes of Commagene, aged 16 years, sheltered in the tomb by fate, call out: I give you my greetings, lad, though mortal the path of life you slowly tread, for swiftly have you winged your way to the land of the Cimmerian folk. Nor will your words be false, for the lad is good, and you will do him a good service."’

How will anyone ever find out if this helmet belonged to a soldier from Brough?

Paul Barford said...

Sad to say, I don't think we'll ever know.

We will not even ever have any certainty that the place indicated as the findspot actually was (sure, I am sure there has been a hole there and probably a small scatter of little bits of tinned bronze plate in its fill, but that will prove nothing). In the report of the "restoration" no mention is made of any samples being taken of the associated soil or corrosion products from the object itself.

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