Thursday, 18 October 2012

Legless — Is the Lexden Chieftain's Boar in Safe Hands?

Whilst researching Iron Age bucket mounts I came across an awful lot of stuff concerning Iron Age and Romano-British sculpture. It's quite a subject and I can feel a book coming on such is the wealth of material, however the following revelation really got my blood up and my mind racing suggesting as it does that museums and their staff may not be the safe hands we would like to think they are when it comes to our own donations, archaeologists finds, and their own bought-in acquisitions.

Here's a picture of the boar figurine found in the Lexden Chieftain's burial near Colchester ~

This picture appears in Miranda Green's, 'Animals in Celtic Life and Myth,' 1992, and you can see clearly that the animal has a complete left hind leg and right foreleg. However, in a more modern picture of the piece just as it is displayed right now in Colchester Museum, things do seem to be somewhat different ~

In comparing both it seems clear that the boar no longer has a left hind leg, has the stump of the right hind leg much reduced, has seemingly gained a left foreleg shank and hoof, and lost its right foreleg shank and hoof too! It's almost as if it's been dipped and left to rot away in a very strong acid.

Now this is most perplexing, because I believe there was only the one boar found in that burial and not a pair. So, how did this damage occur, if damage is what it is? One of the pictures must be reversed, but that still does not explain it all away, in fact it confuses things even further because it would then be the right foreleg once complete that is now reduced!

To be honest I haven't a clue. Apparently the burial was looted and items damaged long before excavation, but presumably the boar was found as it appears in Green's illustration and has suffered damage since, unless that is, the picture was taken before excavation by a looter and the figurine damaged before it was acquired by the Museum?

All the information I can find suggests the contrary, though; that the piece was excavated by archaeologists. If that's the case then the damage must have been caused in storage and by handling since the moment it was dug up by either the excavators or Colchester Museum staff, which would be unforgivable, surely?

I'm sure there's a logical explanation for this discrepancy between two pictures of the same object taken decades apart from each other, but for the life of me, I cannot imagine what it might be...

But I'd really like to know, and wouldn't you?

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