Friday 8 October 2010

The find-spot of the Crosby Garrett helmet

The find-spot (or "provenance" to use the terminology of Christie's) for the Crosby Garrett helmet is given as: "Discovered by a metal detectorist, Crosby Garrett, Cumbria, May 2010". But what is the accurate and reliable collecting history?

The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) suggests that the helmet "was found in 33 fragments, with 34 smaller fragments found in association." The finder was "a young guy" (according to Georgiana Aitken of Christie's) who has chosen to remain anonymous; he is clarified by the Independent as "from the North East of England and in his 20s". Yet there is a suggestion that there was more than one finder. Indeed the print edition of today's Independent ("Museum's £1.7m whip-round fails to save it Roman mask", Friday 8 October 201, 3) states:
"The helmet was unearthed in May by an unnamed father and son, from Peterlee, Co. Durham. They had spent years running their metal detectors over a site near Crosby Garrett. Their earlier searches turned up nothing of any value but they carried on because they liked the view."
Paul Barford has done a little more searching. The Peterlee link was noted in mid-September by the Westmorland Gazette. The Peterlee Mail also confirms the individual came from County Durham.

I note (following a link provided by Paul Barford) that a Peterlee metal-detectorist was involved with a case where an object had two separate find-spots: fields near Thirsk or near Catterick. If this Peterlee metal-detectorist is related to the finder of the "Crosby Garrett" helmet, there must be some concern that the Crosby Garrett findspot has been reported accurately. And if it is the same metal-dectorist (or his father) then it would be an interesting coincidence.

Roger Bland has written about the subsequent story:
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).
Bland also notes that the findspot was not revealed until late August (i.e. more than 3 months later):
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.
What is not clear to me is how a firm connection can be made between a hole in the ground in Cumbria and the alleged findspot of the helmet. Is there any independent evidence that the soil traces on the helmet came from this site? Were any other bronze fragments found in the field?

What if the helmet came from an unrecorded site that the searchers wish to keep secret?

Between early June and August the helmet was restored (not conserved) for Christie's (apparently against a request from PAS and the British Museum). By early September it was ready to be photographed and placed in the catalogue for the October auction.

As a Dan from PAS, writing on behalf of Roger Bland, stated: "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."

What if the parade helmet was not found at Crosby Garrett? What are the intellectual consequences as the helmet is added to the narrative of the Roman occupation of northern England?

And does this case suggest that there is a need to amend The Treasure Act to strengthen the protection of the archaeological heritage of England and Wales?


Worrell, S (2010) LANCUM-E48D73 A ROMAN HELMET Webpage available at: [Accessed: Oct 8, 2010 2:19:43 PM]

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Cultural Property Observer said...

Do you also join Mr. Barford in suggesting that the find spot of the helmet is actually outside the UK?

Shouldn't we be glad that despite the delays, the helmet was ultimately reported?

What are the odds the helmet would have been reported at all in places like Greece? Slim to none I suspect.


Peter Tompa

David Gill said...

Dear Peter
First, it is very good that this significant piece has been recorded.
Second, I note the concerns raised by staff of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. This important piece should have been conserved - not just restored in preparation for auction.
Third, can we be certain that the helmet was found at Crosby Garrett?
You also ask if I think that the helmet was found outside the UK. I do not know and do not have a strong opinion. I would find it easy to believe that the helmet was found in Scotland (i.e. outside England and Wales).
I cannot help thinking that important information about this helmet has been lost - and that is a tragedy.
I hope this helps.

John Muccigrosso said...


It seems likely to me that if such a thing were found in another country, it would nevertheless appear on the market at a place like Christie's, with a false ownership history and a "thought to be from" origin, if anything at all.

Isn't that the lesson of the Medici polaroids?

And is that better than a false PAS record?

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