AN OXFORD archaeologist is facing one of the greatest challenges of his career, tracking down a 2,500-year-old Greek helmet that has been lost for 30 years.
In the early 1980s, Mensun Bound took part in the excavation of a 2,500-year-old Etruscan vessel off the island of Giglio, Italy.
But of the many artefacts he brought to the surface, the Oxford University archaeologist always felt the ancient wreck was robbed of its crowning glory.
A bronze helmet, believed to be worth millions, had already been taken by a German diver when the vessel was discovered 20 years earlier. Mr Bound has spent decades hot on its trail, and has now been asked by the Italians to head an international appeal to finally track it down.
They hope to house it in a museum on Giglio alongside artefacts from the wreck.
He tracked it down in Germany in 1982 when he traced the diver by phoning everybody of the same name. Because of its high value it was being kept in a bank.
Mr Bound photographed it, made drawings and even wore it. But it was to be the last time he saw it.
The 59-year-old, a research fellow at St Peter’s College, said: “It is hoped the museum will one day become a permanent home for the helmet, which is the most spectacular item ever to have come from the island and one of the most important finds made in Italy.
“I have seen all the Greek helmets in existence, and this is by far the most beautiful. It is even more important because it comes from a known archaeological site of the very early 6th century BC.
“Beaten from a single sheet of bronze and decorated with snakes and wild boars, there is nothing else like it in the world. It is a masterpiece of ancient art and technology that could not be duplicated by a modern craftsman.”
Eight years ago, Mr Bound, who lives in Horspath, was asked by dealers to authenticate a helmet in Switzerland. But it never went to auction. Before he could fly over, the helmet had been sold in a private sale.
Mr Bound suspects the helmet is now in a private collection. The initial challenge is to find the owner before negotiations with the Italian authorities may begin.
The mayor of Giglio, Sergio Ortelli, said: “I’d like to talk to whoever has the helmet, and in the spirit of friendship, and on behalf of the people of Giglio, to ask for it back.
“And also to invite whoever has it to a ceremony to mark the return of our island’s lost treasure.”