In October 2010 a heavily restored Roman cavalry helmet was auctioned on the London market and fetched 2.2 million GBP (3.6 million USD). The helmet is reported to have been found in fields near the Cumbrian village of Crosby Garrett in the north-west of England. The bronze helmet was apparently in 33 fragments, with another 34 smaller fragments found nearby.
The discovery was apparently made in May 2010. Some reports suggest the find was made by a single individual, others that it was a father and son team out with their metal-detectors. The helmet was taken to a London auction-house in early June and was then consigned to a restorer who prepared the piece for photographs and the sale. Field Liaison Officers from the Portable Antiquities Scheme
were shown the alleged find-spot at the end of August.
There has been concern that such an unusual find was not covered by The Treasure Act (1996). This piece of legislation for England and Wales defines 'treasure' in terms of the value of the metal; a bronze helmet does not fall under its scope. The major archaeological museum in Carlisle (towards the west end of the Roman frontier system known as Hadrian's Wall) was keen to acquire the helmet but was outbid at auction.
Now Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, the former Cambridge University professor of archaeology, has asked questions in the House of Lords. He has called for an urgent review of The Treasure Act: "It is strange that a national treasure can be sold at public auction by an anonymous vendor to an anonymous buyer". This prompted him to call for greater transparency in the market. The implication is that auction-houses and galleries will need to provide documented collecting-histories for objects that are on offer.
Lord Redesdale asked questions about the restoration of the fragmentary helmet, noting "an enormous amount of archaeological information was lost when conservators put the pieces back together without consulting archaeologists".
It seems that the sale of the Crosby Garrett helmet will encourage a serious rethink on the way that archaeological material can be removed from the soil of England and Wales, and then be offered for sale on the market.