Thursday, 12 January 2012

Hallaton Helmet

The big news this week is the display of the Hallaton helmet at the British Museum. This is a very good example of how attitudes have changed in Britain due to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The finder, Ken Wallace, was a metal-detectorist and member of a local fieldwork group, so he knew that the best action to take, when he saw a life-sized human ear in the mud in 2000, was to call in the experts, archaeologists from the University of Leicester. 

The helmet was lifted in a block of soil and taken to the British Museum for examination. It was found to be made of iron, covered with sheets of silver and decorated in places with gold leaf. As can be seen, there was a bust of a woman on the helmet, a laurel wreath and a mounted figure on the cheek piece. This shows the goddess of victory holding a wreath over the figure and considering that this artefact dates to just after the 43 AD invasion, could refer directly to the Claudian suppression of Britain. 

Along with the helmet over 5,000 silver and gold coins were found, along with jewellery and pottery. Most of the coins could be attributed to the local tribe. One coin is Roman and is the astonishing date of 211 BC, the oldest found in Britain. 

It has been suggested that the area was an open-air shrine enclosed by a ditch and palisade (not unknown, but no evidence has been put forward for this here) and the whole deposit was a sacrifice by the tribe or invading Roman army, part of which was made up of other Celtic warriors from the continent and even tribes from the south of Britain. If so this would have been a massive sacrifice by a rich individual or by the legion invading the west midlands. A gift to the gods of imperial quality. They buried three dogs to guard the hoard, just to make sure it was safe!
In this area of Celtic Britain the tribe was called the Corieltauvi and this hoard may have been made by a returning tribesman who had gone off to fight in the Roman army and returned as a conqueror. But this is just fantasy on the part of the press. Who knows? It is a wonderful find made by a regular bloke who acted responsibly so that this treasure could be enjoyed by all of us. Unlike the Crosby Garrett helmet sold at Christie's for £2 million in 2010.  

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