Roman helmet: Will it go on public view?
As Reg insists in Monty Python's Life of Brian: "Alright - but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?"
Well, there's also the buried treasure: coins, swords, jewels and helmets. What the Romans seem to have failed to leave us is much common sense - which has led to an exquisite example of a ceremonial helmet, found on a farm in Cumbria by a man with a metal detector, ending up not in Carlisle's Tullie House Museum as many hoped, but with a private bidder.
If the buyer is from the UK, as per this morning's rumours, that's not necessarily good news for those who hope the helmet will go on public view. A foreign buyer would probably try to take it abroad, at which point the Department of Culture's Export Committee would step in and give the Tullie House Museum six months to match the price; if successful, the museum would then take charge of the property.
With a UK buyer there is nothing that can be done; the chance has gone. Perhaps the buyer will lend it to the museum, perhaps they won't: it is his or her prerogative. All this could have been easily avoided, according to Roger Bland at the Portable Antiquities Scheme if the Treasure Act had been updated in 2007 as had been planned.
If this had happened, he says, it is likely that its definition of treasure would have been extended to include Roman finds of base-metal objects - not just gold and silver. A similar extension regarding pre-historic finds was made to the act in 2003.
When a find is deemed to be treasure, it immediately becomes the property of the Crown. At this point, an independent committee makes a valuation and gives interested public museums four months in which to raise the money. This was the case recently with the Staffordshire Hoard.
Christie's set the pre-sale estimate at between £200,000 and £300,000, yet the Tullie House Museum, not a wealthy organisation, managed to stay in the bidding game until the price exceeded £1.7m - which demonstrates a determination to buy the helmet for public display on the part of the museum and of members of the public, who were donating money right to the end.
The helmet clearly struck a chord; the museum and the public failed in their campaign because, they say, they were failed by the laws of the land. The Romans would not have been so slack.