He commented that the find appeared to have been "deliberately buried in a hole dug for the purpose, just where it was found; and the unbattered, and even unscratched condition of its entire visible surface seems amply to confirm the inference." Its crushed condition meant that that it was not initially recognisable as a helmet, though its ornamentation was clearly visible. Atkinson described the outer decoration:
The chief ornamentation seems to depend on the effigies of two snakes in strong relief and wrought hollow, with their heads meeting ... The bodies of the snakes slightly descending thence, and diverging, seem then to have taken an upward direction so as to enclose or enfold the central portion of the plate. But these details cannot be ascertained so long as the object remains in its present condition. Besides the snakes, on which the scales are represented by regular series of curved lines carefully engraved, several raised boss-like projections, which themselves, as well as the plate around their bases, are rather elaborately chased or engraved, are observable; and the outlines of certain figures, apparently armed in a fashion rather resembling a Greek soldier's defensive equipment, are visible on another part of the surface. Besides these figures and ornaments, other minor ornamental engravings are worked in here and there.
It was at first incorrectly identified as a breastplate of unknown origin (Atkinson thought it to be of "Oriental workmanship") and age. Thomas Richmond, a local historian, erroneously assigned it in 1868 to "a late Celtic, or early Anglo-Saxon period".
In 1878, Frederick B. Greenwood, who owned the land on which the helmet had been found, presented it to the British Museum. It was restored at the museum by Robert Cooper Ready, resulting in the discovery that it was in fact a Roman helmet. It is currently on display in the British Museum's Roman Britain section in Room 49. Similar helmets have been found elsewhere in Europe; the closest continental parallel is a helmet found in the River Sa˘ne at Chalon-sur-Sa˘ne in France in the 1860s. The Guisborough Helmet represents a distinct form of cavalry helmet, dubbed the "Guisborough type", which can be distinguished by three peaked scallops on the brow band.