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June 04, 2004

Corinthian helmet

I once had the opportunity to spend an afternoon at the pub with Robert Holdstock, author of Mythago Wood. That book alone is half the reason I went on to study anthropology... I asked him how he managed to evoke such realism in his neolithic and bronze age settings even down to fragments of lost languages. The short answer was that he is good at making things up. Part of the process involves visits to the British Museum to see period objects. The thing to remember about those objects is that they are museum pieces now but in their own time and place they were as everyday, as much a part of the fabric of life, as the chairs we sat in or the pint glasses in our hands. A helmet in a display case at the British Museum is not just a priceless piece of antiquity. It actually belonged to someone. Someone who wore it, sweated in it, perhaps died wearing it.

Such objects are also continuing sources of inspiration. This Corinthian helmet, currently on display at the Manchester Museum, would do nicely.

The helmet was made of a single piece of bronze, 27 centuries ago, heated and hammered and annealed by a technique used as late as the Florentine renaissance but now lost for ever. It was forged from an alloy of copper and tin, with traces of lead and iron.

The noseguard is a 19th-century mix of copper and zinc, probably welded to the helmet after it was unearthed from a temple sanctuary such as at Olympia in Greece. Invisible traces of quartz, calcite, gypsum and feldspar, the dust of its resting place for more than two millennia, cling to the bronze. There has been some corrosion, but that stopped long ago. Known to the Greeks as a Corinthian helmet, it was probably tailor-made for one careful owner in an unknown Greek city state in the 7th century BC. It went into battle with him, protected him from bronze swords and lances, and when he died, in Greek ritual fashion it may well have died with him.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at June 4, 2004 08:57 AM

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? Why the basement looks as it does. from Welcome to Castle Argghhh! The Home Of One Of Jonah's Military Guys.
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Tracked on June 4, 2004 11:25 AM


Exactly why my basement looks the way it does... it excites my muse.

And the big museums rely on us amateurs, as well. Many times, in the last two centuries, we're the ones who initially got the items off the street and initially preserved, and in some cases, documented. Items that are saved that otherwise would not be - precisely because at the time, they seem so ubiquitous.

That should not be construed as support for those who ruin archeaological sites - I'm talking about those of us who pull the near-contemporaneous artifacts out of the stream - not those who loot ancient sites, destroying the context and the knowledge to be winnowed out from them.

Posted by: John of Argghhh! at June 4, 2004 10:57 AM