Sunday, December 31, 2006

Weird shit you find in the trash I: The Coppergate Helmet

Yeah, yeah, over two months. Suck my nuts; I don't work for you. You want to hear about the Coppergate helmet or not?

So, you know, some people will throw out a perfectly good pair of shoes, or maybe an apple that still has a couple of bites left on it. You might throw out pens that don't write very well but probably have some use left in 'em because you're too lazy to draw all those fucking pages of little circles. People's moms are always throwing out their invaluable baseball cards or comic books that would have been worth a fortune if they had kept 'em, unless everyone else's moms had also not thrown theirs out, in which case they wouldn't be worth shit.

But you are extremely unlikely to have ever thrown anything like the Coppergate helmet into the garbage. As a side note, if you have, please contact me at once, because you are clearly both rich and out of your fucking mind, and you sound like my kind of people.

Anyway, yeah, in 1982 some archaeologists were watching construction going on at this site in York where they were gonna build a mall -- it's actually a pretty nice mall, I guess, has a little whisky shop in there and a cool Viking museum where you can see a guy pooping -- when there's a clang as the shovel of the mechanical digger hits something. The boss dude runs over, thinks it's a rock. Instead it is this thing here:

Now, you don't have to know much about archaeology to know that's pretty old with the chain mail and whatnot -- in fact, it's over a thousand years old -- and that it's in pretty good nick. In fact, it's in stunningly good condition for an Anglo-Saxon helmet. There are two other ones known from England. The first is the famous Sutton Hoo helmet, which you may recognize from heavy metal album covers or whatever:

Pretty rad, huh? But in fact, it doesn't look a goddamn thing like that keen replica. It looks like this, after meticulous restoration:

A bunch of rusty-ass metal attached to a mock-up frame. And what do you want? 1300 or so years in the ground will fuck your shit right up unless you get the right kind of soil and whatnot. And don't even get me started on the Benty Grange helmet, which looks like fucking this:

Check out that fucking nasty-ass pig hat.

Anyway, by comparison the Coppergate helmet is like the Rolls-Royce of Anglo-Saxon helmets, with its fancy Latin inscription and that badass duck glowering at you from between the eyebrows, and all kinds of curlicues and gold and whatnot.

Now, the Sutton Hoo and Benty Grange helmets both come out of burials, where some high muckity-muck would get buried with all his gold and jewels and unidentifiable metal shit that archaeologists call things like "standard" and "axe-hammer" in order to cover up the fact that these items are totally unique and nobody knows what the fuck they are -- at all, in the case of the Sutton Hoo standard. At least that hammer-looking thing is pretty clearly for caving motherfuckers' heads in. But I digress.

But this Coppergate helmet doesn't come out of anything fancy like that. Let's take a look at the contents of the pit this bad boy was found in to see if we can establish some context. We like context, right?

A sword-beater, a churn dasher, a crucible fragment, a fragment of hearth lining, seven little bits of slag, three fragments of iron, a piece of antler, and a rubbing stone. You don't need to know what a sword-beater or a churn-dasher are (I do, depressingly enough), but suffice it to say that this is basically a bunch of junk. Although the dating of what went into where when is not totally clear and probably never will be, this is basically a bunch of trash in a hole in the ground.

So you're some kind of eighth-or-ninth-or-whenever century Anglian dude, important and wealthy enough to have this awesome helmet with the chain mail and the gold and that menacing-ass duck. How does that go from pride of place atop your ruddy, bearded nogging to being in a dirty hole in the ground full of garbage and no one taking it out again?

I am trying to imagine a version of that story that doesn't involve someone getting their shit fucked up hardcore, and it really just isn't coming to me.


At 10:10 PM, Anonymous Patience said...

People should read this.


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