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June 04, 2004

Why the basement looks as it does.

While I rant about gun rights and such on occasion in this space, and many of you have discovered the Arsenal, which was one of the original inspirations for this blog, the Ghost of a Flea has an excellent post that neatly encaspulates why the basement is so cluttered, what motivates me to do what I do, and spend money and effort, and time on military artifacts, rather than socking it away for our retirement. Why we drive cars with 280,000 miles on them, and only buy a new car once a decade...

I want to know things like this, as it helps me in my work as a historian:

The authenticity of the helmet was never in doubt. But the researchers used techniques called neutron diffraction, x-ray diffraction, x-ray fluorescence and infrared spectroscopy to confirm that among other things, the noseguard was not authentic. Alastar Jackson of Manchester University, an authority on bronze armour, had already suggested that the noseguard might be a different alloy mix, since its edges were much sharper than those on the rest of the helmet and its shape was wrong. Pantos says: "It just did not look right. It could have been tested a simpler way. But we went the extra mile, took the extra step, and we haven't finished our work."

"It is much later, because it doesn't work, it is too short, its profile is too vertical," Prag says. "You try putting it on - and Manolis demonstrated this by making a plaster cast - and it bangs on your nose. It needs to stick out because your nose sticks out.

"It suffered in battle. John Prag's point is that this is a cheapo soldier's helmet," says Pantos. "It did not have the thickness of the helmet that Achilles might have used. It does not have that crest on top. It has a fantastic mark at the back that suggests that something sharp went right through the eye, presumably through the head, and very nearly came out through the back. So it has been battered in battle."

The dead soldier's armour would have been stripped from his body by the victors and then set up with other trophies of battle on wooden posts in the sanctuary of Olympia, as offerings to the gods. Armour would be "killed" in a sacrificial ritual, just as a lamb might be.

Prag says: "It happened a lot at Olympia. It stands there for a long time, and either the sanctuary gets too full, or the post rots and it falls down and the sanctuary guards gather it all up and they bury it. At that point you are committing it to the next world, and you have to kill it. You kill a lamb by cutting its throat, to commit it to the next world, to the gods. You kill a helmet by bending the cheek pieces up, and the noseguard up, so that it is dead, it is useless."

It also keeps students interested, when you can show them actual artifacts from the period in question... as well as keeping me interested!

If you'd like to read the whole piece on the helmet from the Guardian Weekly, go visit the Flea via the link above.