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Object: Iron helmet (known as the "Spanish" helmet)

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Title Iron helmet (known as the "Spanish" helmet)
Production Unknown (metalworker), circa 1580, Europe
Materials iron
Classification close helmets
Dimensions Overall: 292mm (Height) x 192mm (Width/Depth)
Registration number ME000841
An iron helmet dated to 1580 and previously thought to be Spanish was found in Wellington Harbour some time before 1904. It has since been repeatedly cited as evidence of European contact with New Zealand prior to Abel Tasman in 1642. It is a ‘close helmet’. Though the style is European, it is not necessarily Spanish. It could have been made in England or northern Italy. Its state of preservation suggests it was immersed in seawater for only a short time. It shows no signs of marine encrustation, although it could have been cleaned. Archival material in the Museum shows that so little is known about the helmet that it cannot be used as evidence of European contact with New Zealand before Tasman. The helmet may have been used as ship's ballast - obsolete armour was often used this way. It may have been a souvenir brought out by an immigrant. The helmet may have also been given as a presentation piece or as trade to local Mäori in much the same way as armour was presented to Hongi Hika, Titore, and a sword to Te Rauparaha. The helmet was first recorded in the museum's collections in 1904 - 1905. It has been dated to approximately 1580 and is of a type known as a close helmet. Close helmets were used in the sixteenth century. There is no evidence to suggest Te Papa's helmet is actually of Spanish origin. It is not known when or how the museum acquired the helmet. It was recorded as "found in Wellington Harbour".

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