Jesse Obert investigates a Proto-Corinthian helmet at the Hearst Museum

Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Jesse Obert examining the Hearst helmet

This summer, AHMA students Jesse Obert and Jarrid Dulaney, with Nico Tripcevich from the Archaeological Research Facility, used a portable X-Ray Florescence (pXRF) spectrometer to study the elemental composition of a Proto-Corinthian helmet at the Hearst Museum, object 8-4597. Although the object has no known provenance, the irregularity of the metal and its system of corrosion suggest that the object is authentic. The helmet was constructed in two halves and the chemical compositions of these various pieces allow us to reconstruct the object’s production process. 
The production of the Hearst helmet probably required six steps. The ancient metalsmith used a single bronze-alloy recipe to produce a large stock or blank. This stock was then forged into the two separate halves of the helmet’s body. The metalsmith then gathered together all the excess or leftover metal and added a notable amount of lead, which makes the metal more malleable and easier to manipulate. He or she then reheated this concoction into a new stock and forged the rivets for the two helmet halves. The helmet was then riveted together and finished. This production process required more time, more labor, and less skill than that of the later and more sophisticated helmets of Classical Greece. It seems reasonable, therefore, to date the Hearst helmet to the first quarter of the seventh century BCE at a time when this helmet style was just beginning to become popular. 
At a later date, a patch was riveted onto the helmet over a fracture above the left eye. The patch and its rivets have markedly different bronze alloy types, so they were probably created from two different stocks with two different recipes at two different times. They have separate production histories from each other and from the helmet itself. They were probably chosen from a collection of pre-forged patches and rivets based on their specific elemental properties, including color and strength. Metalsmiths were just beginning to perfect the helmet forging process in the early seventh century BCE, but the elemental diversity of the patch and its rivets suggest that they were already relying on a system of interchangeable parts to aid with secondary repairs and alterations. 
This study was only possible due to the generosity of Archaeological Research Facility and the Hearst Museum. In addition, Obert and Delaney would like to thank Leslie Freund, Emily Mackil, Scott Lyons, and Chris Hoffman and his photography team for their contributions and assistance.