Monday, June 27, 2016

Pseudo-wicker shields from Pazyryk

The Pazyryk culture, dating from about the sixth to third centuries BC, is a subgroup of the Scytho-Siberian culture, and its royal kurgans found in the Altai have provided a rich source of artefacts from our time period preserved in permafrost, including rare textile and leather goods.

I recently came across a post by Sean Manning at Book and Sword on small Pazyryk-style shields, including several I'd never seen before.  Some of them are made from the familiar stick-and-hide construction, but one is a solid wood shield chiseled to resemble the others at first glance.  There's also good shots of the flat leather thong that apparently functioned as a grip.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Some thoughts on linguistics and the name of Varkâna

Varkâna, the name of the satrapy located on the southern and southeastern shores of the Caspian, is thought to mean "wolf-land" (c.f. Avestan vəhrkō, Sanskrit vŗka and New Persian gorg).  The Greeks knew it as Hyrkania (Ὑρκανία, while in Latin and consequently Western European languages, it's spelled "Hyrcania").  Today the name survives as Gorgan, the name of the capital of Golestan province.  In the Caspian branch of the Iranian languages, the city is called Wergen

Relating these diverse forms is less challenging than it might appear.  To begin with, you've probably already noticed how closely-related V and W phonemes are.  The letter V in Western European alphabets is descended from Classical Latin U, which was shaped like a V and functions as a W when it appears before other vowels, so the word virvs, "poison," was pronounced "wee-roos," and vniversvm as "oo-nee-wer-soom."  However, in Italian and modern ecclesiastical Latin as they evolved in the Middle Ages, V came to be pronounced like English V.  Within the Germanic languages, English ward is equivalent to Norse vörðr and Frankish *wardōn which became French garde and English guard.

From Frankish loanwords in the Latin languages we know that W often shifts to GW and G.  Thus *wardōn became Vulgar Latin *guardāre, thence Italian guardare, Spanish guardar, Old French garder.  Likewise the English warranty is equivalent to French guarantie (whence also English guarantee), war to guerre, and so on.  The shift from W to GW is slight, requiring only that the back of the tongue touch the roof of the mouth, and the difference between them is blurry, as in Spanish GU, which is sometimes pronounced like English W.

In the Iranian languages, the same shift is attested with the name of Vištāspa, Zarathuštra's royal patron in the Gathas, called in the Middle Persian Zand-i Wahman Yasn "Wištāsp" and in the New Persian Šāhnāmah "Goštāsp."  So, we can easily picture Varkâna becoming a transitional Middle Iranian form *Warkan(a), which leads to Caspian Wergen and a further transitional Persian form, something like *Gwargan, before becoming Gorgan in New Persian.

If the V->W shift - at least in the spoken languages - had already occurred or was taking place as early as the fifth century BC, then Herodotus (or his third-party sources) would have been hearing Varkâna in the form *Warkan(a).  This is not unreasonable; in the fourth century BC, Old Persian inscriptions were changing in the direction of Middle Persian and it may be that the spoken language was evolving ahead of the written form.

This brings us to Hyrkania, which from an English-speaker's point of view still scarcely resembles *Warkan(a).  However, that's down to applying English phonology to the word.  Ὑρκανία in Greek has rather different sound values, mainly in the first syllable.  First, note that the letter eta (H) is not written.  In ancient Greek dialects, initial eta was often dropped.  Second, the upsilon (Y) was pronounced much closer to English long U (as in "rue") than to any kind of English Y.  Thus, the ancient Greek pronunciation of Hyrkania was probably more like "Oorkania," which, of course, is not too far removed from *Warkan(a).

The change from -a to -ia is seen elsewhere in Greek; the ancient Anatolian country of Lukka was known in Greek as Lykia (Lycia).  I don't have sufficient knowledge to explain the elimination of the first A, but it's perhaps relevant that the initial digamma (W) before vowels was dropped altogether in many Greek dialects during the Archaic period, as Mycenaean wa-na-ka, "king" -> Homeric anax.

For comparison:
Iranian Vištāspa = Greek Hystaspes
O.P. Vidarna = Gk. Hydarnes
Sanskrit Vistasta = Gk. Hydaspes

If I'm correct, then in all these cases, the upsilon equates to Indo-Iranian V, not I.  In which case, the I is dropped just like the first A in *Warkan(a) -> Hyrkania.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

XMFM is now The Royal Road

I felt it was time for a less overtly silly (not to mention confrontational) title.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Linen armor build thread by Todd Feinman

Should've posted this earlier.  Todd Feinman is currently working on an Egyptian linen corslet over at the Bronze Age Center.  Armors derived from this style may have been worn by Persians (Herodotus I.135) and of course by Egyptians in Achaemenid service; he also proposes that the weaving techniques may be applicable to tube-and-yoke corslets.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Making an Elamite dagger, part II

Couple of weeks ago, I went to town with the angle grinder's flap disk.  In about an hour and a half, I removed a third of the tang thickness and completed the primary bevels.

I also did a quick polish to round off the now-sharp edges and highlight remaining problem areas.

Getting the tang down to an even thickness is proving difficult.  A nice surprise was how easily the little chevron shape on the guard formed as a result of adding the bevels, but unfortunately, I don't think the scales I selected are long enough to cover it, so it might wind up as a very small ricasso.  Although it has practically no distal taper before the point, the blade now feels light and sword-like, balancing about an inch in front of the guard, which will likely move even farther back when the scales are added.

What didn't go so well?  The flap disk does the job fast, but it left behind many deep grind marks which will be difficult to polish out.  The flap disk also seemed to produce a slight hollow grind on one side of the centerline.  And keeping the centerline from wandering was pretty difficult...

...  which resulted in this, the blade becoming too thin below the shoulders, where I tried too many times to correct it.  A well-made sword blade should be at its very thickest at this point.  Hopefully, the original grinding wheel can get rid of the flap disk's grind marks and reduce some of the uneven thickness a little more slowly.

With the edges safely rounded, I could feel and sorta see that where the blade should be at its widest, the edges are faintly convex.  As well, I learned from my belt knife project that the flanges don't require that much extra material, so I should make the tang narrower by perhaps a sixteenth of an inch.

I've halted work for several weeks, because I have other things to do and the weather in Bucks County's been cold and rainy (grinding is too noisy and produces too many steel filings to work indoors).  I intend to pick up again a week from Sunday, after my woodworking class ends, hopefully correcting all the above issues.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Making a belt knife

As I observed at the time, one takeaway from Marathon 2015 is that we still sometimes need a small but sharp knife around camp for mundane jobs.  Since my flanged dagger project will require grinding primary bevels and cold-forging flanges anyway, I decided to practice these skills and acquire a needed accessory in the process.

The knife is inspired loosely by one seen in Oriental Institute Publications 69 (pg. 311 of the PDF) and, to a lesser extent, one with a more extreme recurve found at Deve Hüyük.  Mine doesn't exactly resemble either of them, and is sized to be useful for tasks like cutting rope and opening boxes.  I don't know what the purpose of the recurved shape is, but it's pretty common, used by the Romans, Thracians, and in South Asia, so there must be something to it.

The lack of any blade shoulder gives it away as a utility knife with little use as a weapon, as there's nothing to keep the fingers from slipping onto the blade if used for stabbing and it's too small to put any power behind a slashing attack.  Of course, that does make it a bit less safe as a tool as well; even most utility knives have a bit of a shoulder, but not all, so if you're not reckless, it's fine.

I markered the outline freehand on 1x1/8-inch mild steel bar stock, added the rivet holes with a drill press and cleaned them up with my Dremel's cone cutter.  I cut the outline with my angle grinder and did the primary bevels with the standard stone grinding wheel.  I intended for it to have a flat grind from the spine, but when the edge started to get too thin, it wore away and deformed.  Perhaps being overly cautious, I wound up giving it a convex bevel that only extends about half its width.  As a result, the blade is very sturdy but probably won't get too sharp.

Forging the flanges was easy enough (took a lot of effort, but that's just my lack of stamina talking), but there was still quite a bit of extra material, which suggests that I might want to go back and reduce the extra width I added to the flanged dagger tang for that purpose

The grip is black walnut, cut and drilled at Bucks, with a simple linseed oil finish.  The trick in drilling rivet holes in a grip of this type is to chuck up a bit on the drill press, hold the blade either over the edge of a block or preferably in a vise so that the tang sticks out, and position it so the drill bit is sticking straight down through the rivet holes.  Then slip the grip onto the tang, making absolutely sure not to move the tang at all, start the drill press and lower it until it drills through the grip, passing through the tang holes in the process.  It's a delicate job even with modern equipment and a humbling reminder of what clever bastards ancient people were.  I understand that a clamp is preferable for holding the blade but there weren't any in the shop that would actually work for the purpose.

I made the slot a bit too wide, requiring a shim (that little pale edge peeking out between the blade and grip), and the grip is a bit too narrow between the flanges, which I didn't notice until after drilling.  So I rounded off the ends of the flanges so they wouldn't bite into my hand.  Rivets are simply an annealed common nail cut up with the angle grinder's cutting wheel.  The sheath is heavy molded rawhide with a welt and glove suede facing, painted with the Iranian rosette and just tied to the belt with a suede band.

My camera didn't want to focus on it, but I found the rope-like seam produced by single whipstitching very interesting.  When the needle initially entered the leather from the front, whipped around and passed through the front again, the seam on the back was curled forward into a shape I found oddly reminiscent of the edging seen on ornate akinakes scabbards (see here, third photo from the top on the left).  Obviously the resemblance is not that great, but I could imagine this kind of leather seam edging, whose decorative quality is purely incidental, as being distantly ancestral to that used on what are presumably metal facings.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Making an Elamite dagger and scabbard, part I

Between the Egyptian statue of Darius the Great and the find from Deve Hüyük, I now believe a recreation of the so-called Elamite dagger is entirely plausible as well as not too expensive - and that's just what I'm doing!

This will be a slow and laborious process and could take the better part of a year.  I'm also bogged down with trying to get as much woodworking done as possible right now that necessitates shop equipment, since I probably won't be taking any classes next semester.

This project owes much to the work of Matthew Amt, who two years ago demonstrated that an iron Naue II could be created from mild steel using only an angle grinder and hand tools, as opposed to the more expensive bench grinders and belt sanders normally used in making blades by stock removal.  If you have boundless stamina, I expect you could do the same with just a hacksaw and files.  Again, this is something I lack, so power tools will be necessary.

The project starts with a paper pattern.  I first scaled the image from Halehs World of Archaeology on my computer (according to Roger Moorey's catalogue, the blade, including tang, is 31.9cm long).  I made a rough tracing of the hilt, folded it in half lengthwise and made a nice smooth outline, then added about an eighth of an inch as the raw material for cold-hammered flanges (this is also acting on Matt's advice).  The blade was done separately.  Since the original is badly distorted from damage and/or corrosion, I just sketched the blade from measurements, and added about half an inch to account for damage to the original's point.  It may be a slightly different shape from however the original was shaped; I don't mind.  I know from photos that it is within the range of shape of well-preserved bronze originals.

Once the paper patterns were cut out, I glued them onto card stock using a gluestick and cut them out again.  I also twirled out the rivet holes with the angled blade of an X-Acto.

Next, the pattern is mounted onto some mild steel bar stock with mounting putty, and traced in permanent marker.  This is 1/4x1.5x36-inch stock, which should provide plenty of material for both this and a new akinakes blade when I get around to it.  I have no idea of the alloy; as a rule, though, chain hardware stores in the U.S. don't carry high-carbon or stainless steel in bar stock form.  No heat treatment will be assumed; ideally, I'll just hammer-harden the edges.

En suite with the angle grinder, of course, goes my trusty splash goggles and a pair of leather gloves.  I have no protective apron, so I'm just trying to stand and hold the grinder to avoid most of the sparks.  And there are sparks, not as much as with high-carbon steel, but definitely more than I'm comfortable having rain onto my trousers.  I have to work outdoors, and after the initial cuts I realized ear plugs are necessary.

Above, the outline is maybe two-thirds done over three roughly 45-minute sessions, mostly using the grinding disk that came with the machine, with, of course, the larger chunks removed with a standard cut-off wheel.  Using the angle grinder is easier but more tedious than I anticipated; it's like gradually erasing metal.  Between sessions, I've been smoothing out the edges and getting rid of the ragged fringes with a file to make handling the blank safer.

I drilled the holes for the tang with one of my school's drill presses (using my own drill bits, of course - I don't like the thought of being yelled at for using woodshop equipment on metal) and cleaned them up with a Dremel cone cutter.

One interesting result that I've noticed so far is that assuming I understand Moorey's measurements, the hilt is tiny, and far too short to function the way I thought it would.  I thought that all five fingers would rest between the pommel and guard, like on a modern qama (which this little sword greatly resembles), with the thumb and forefinger occupying the finger notches.  Instead, the thumb and forefinger can only simultaneously pinch the notches if the pommel is completely within the fingers, resting against the heel of the hand and between the little and ring fingers.  If I choke up on it so that the pommel's outside my fingers and lower on the heel, my thumb and forefinger are now pinching the guard, with my middle finger in one of the notches.  Perhaps corroborating the latter usage is the fact that on several other daggers of this type, the sides of the guard are concave.

Meanwhile, the card pattern can also be used for preparing the scabbard parts.  Possibly the original was made of just two pieces of wood, but because this would require a lot of material removal and leave the wide side of the throat a bit weaker than ideal due to its grain being shorter than the throat is wide, I'm making it instead from multiple pieces of 1/4-inch poplar (aka American tulipwood).

I chose poplar because what with the sharp angles, I don't think these scabbards had an organic facing, which would either have to be made in multiple pieces (and perhaps stitched?) or get scrunched around corners.  For a simple scabbard which will be faced, basswood is acceptable, but it (or at least the kind we get in the States) strikes me as too soft and weak for a bare wood scabbard.  Harder woods may be more durable, but are also more expensive and difficult to work.  Poplar provides a nice balance of physical qualities.  It belongs to a different species - a whole different order, in fact - from the poplars of Eurasia, and its color is usually unattractive (though can be quite beautiful), but I plan to paint it, so I don't think the species matters so much, since neither its color nor grain will be viisble.

Alongside them, I cut a pair of curly maple scales.   I later got some black walnut, which would possibly be a little more appropriate (it's not the right species, but walnut grows throughout Iran while maple grows only in the north) but I'd already cut the maple by then.  Oh well, at least the curly pattern is nice.

Next update in I-don't-know-when.