Saturday, 14 January 2012

"Esmeralda's Cumbrian History" on a Second Object in a Crosby Garrett Hoard?

Diane McIlmoyle has an interesting blog post (The Crosby Garret Roman Helmet – The One That Got Away 10.01.2012) which presents a slightly different view of the whole sorry affair of the Crosby Garrett helmet. It contains one or two snippets not present in the previous published accounts. Are these based perhaps on local knowledge not otherwise available? I am a bit sceptical because part of the story she recounts reflects what should ideally have happened, rather than what actually did transpire back in May 2010 (I am however left wondering whether this is what the PAS is now putting out for local consumption?)
[...] realised that he might, in fact, have unearthed something quite special. So, like all good metal detectorists, he contacted the local Portable Antiquities team who met him at the Crosby Garrett site to see where the metal had been unearthed. The Finds Liaison Officers could then confirm that as the metal pieces were not a precious metal (they’re brass) and they were parts of a single item found on its own, they fell outside the legal definition of ‘treasure’ under the 1996 Treasure Act. This meant that the detectorist and the landowner were free to dispose of them as they saw fit. The metal pieces were then sent to the famous London auctioneers, Christie’s.
She draws attention to what the FLOs say about the findspot: "In fact, the FLOs (Stuart Noon and Dot Boughton) who visited the finds site at Crosby Garrett concluded that there were earthworks from an ancient, previously unknown, settlement nearby". (Earthworks, eh? Pasture then? That would fit with where I reconstructed the findspot on this blog which has clear earthworks visible on the aerial and satellite photos.)

The blogger has some interesting thoughts on the attempted negotiations with the landowner and finders before the sale, there seems to be more here too than meets the eye. The position of the landowner in particular always being here (as was noted at the time) a bit odd.

There is however one piece of information to which she draws attention which raises an enormous number of questions about the way this find was handled (and indeed should be examined carefully by those reforming the Treasure Act). Ms McIlmoyle reports:
The remaining mystery is that the conserved helmet was constructed from 67 of the 68 pieces of metal found. It was decided that the remaining piece was a patch, as there were traces of solder on it. There were, however, no matching traces of solder to be found on the rest of the helmet. If it had been possible to demonstrate that the 68th piece was part of a second object, then, according to the Treasure Act, the helmet would now be in public ownership.
Well, I suppose we might ask, why was it "not possible" to demonstrate that this piece was part of a second object? Much MORE TO THE POINT, where is this alleged second item in the PAS record of the find? Why was this second object (the patch from another object) not identified as such when the PAS specialists examined the object in Christie's? Why was a team of excavators not immediately assembled and sent out to examine the findspot and the area around it BEFORE the sale? If there is a second object still in the ground in the same ancient pit in which the helmet was buried, and we (allegedly) have the patch (and in fact there was also a metal rod- seen in the PAS photos) then the helmet was not buried as a single object. There therefore should be an inquest, and the objects (including the one already removed from the ground which was not previously the subject of an inquest) declared Treasure.

OR, is the landowner, anxious about precisely such an outcome, blocking access of any archaeological team to the findspot?

OR are the Portable Antiquities Scheme themselves rather wary of approaching this findspot knowing that if they uncover more pieces of bronze, they would be opening a can of worms?

I think the nation is owed the truth about this find, don't you?


kyri said...

"like all good metal detectorists,he contacted the local pas team"
no he didnt,he contacted christies first and christies recomended to him to tell the local flos.
"the metal pieces were then sent to christies"
by the time the pas was informd about the find,the pieces were allready at christies.
we had sally worrell,running up and down the country,pleading first for the restoration to be delayed,so a full scientific examination could be done[a request which was dismissed outright]than trying to arrange to meet the metal detector to persuade him to sell the helmet to the local museum,a request which was ignored.
theres your partneship in action,the national finds adviser of the pas reduced to begging a metal detector to do the right thing,all to no avail.of course,all the free publicity provided by the pas pushed the price up into the stratosphere.
i read an intresting quote from our culture minister ed vaizey
"one cant stop private buyers buying private property,i wouldnt like to see the sector become over-regulated"
i thought the mandate of the culture minister was to protect and manage our cultural heritage,surly we are duty bound to protect our cultural heritage without being accused of over-regulating.

Anonymous said...

I am the author of Esmeralda's Cumbrian History. I wish you had made your points there, Paul.

Ref. commenter above - I didn't know for a fact that the pieces were sent to Christie's before the FLO was contacted, although I suspected, and feared, that. Interesting to know, so thanks for that.

Paul, if you check the source quoted and linked on my post (British Archaeology Magazine) you will see that it was written by all the official people involved in the case, including Sally Worrell, mentioned by the commenter above. It seems that they were not given the option of closer analysis. It is in this detailed article - long available - that the possibility of another piece of metal, and of other earthworks at the site, is mentioned.

There are no secrets or special local information here.

Paul Barford said...

Hi Diane/Esmerelda,
I liked your blog, by the way.

I can post a link over on yours to my stuff if you like. I want to keep my comments on the Crosby Garrett fiasco in one place. If you look at my blog you can see it became a bit of a hobby horse of mine (as I am not alone in thinking it is a significant blow to current policies on collecting).

The sorry series of events about what the finder(s) did upon hoiking this stuff out is chronicled on my blog in some detail in old posts at the time of the announcement and sale. Although legal, it was pretty scandalous. The PAS was involved very (too) late, and probably largely at the insistence of Christie's.

The PAS were very cagey about their plans for an excavation when I asked. Please keep pressurising them to do one. Just because the helmet is "the one that got away" does not mean that we should let the whole fiasco be forgotten. Quite the opposite, let's keep up the pressure to help prevent many more "getting away" in the future.

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