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.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Cache of bronze votive weapons found in Oman

(Thanks Giannis Kadoglou and Mike Loades!)  A French archaeological expedition in Oman, on the Arabian Peninsula, has announced the discovery of a group of miniature weapons, including bows and quivers made of solid bronze, on the floor of what is thought to be a religious complex.

The article dates the weapons to "Iron Age II (900-600 BC)" or approximately the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Elamite periods and roughly contemporaneous to the canonical Luristan bronzes.  However, author Mike Loades has opined that the arrows and quivers bear a strong resemblance to those seen on the famous Achaemenid friezes from Susa.  No closeups of the "five daggers with crescent-shaped pommels" is included but the description obviously sounds like daggers from the Levant, Mesopotamia and western Iran from the late Bronze Age through (as we now know) early Achaemenid times.  I'm unfortunately unfamiliar with the type of axehead shown in the article.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Deve Hüyük - the full catalogue

Following Friday's post, I found Roger Moorey's catalogue of finds.  It was embarrassingly easy and I don't know why my earlier searches didn't turn it up, but here goes anyway.  Although most of what's shown is in the form of line drawings, it's still a rich gallery of objects common to our time period.

An important note on time periods:  The site as a whole comprises several phases.  Deve Hüyük I seems to be Neo-Assyrian, while Deve Hüyük II is Achaemenid.  There's also a few Arsacid-period graves in phase II; these are termed Deve Hüyük III.  Therefore if you're interested in any particular object, you need to confirm which phase it belongs to.

Moorey states, on the basis of the long sword and hilt fragments from Persepolis (see OIP #69), that the flanged dagger was used throughout the Achaemenid period.  He also lends some credence to something I've long suspected, that this dagger is the same as the "Elamite" dagger worn by robe-clad Persians and Elamites in period art.

There's a lot of highly decorated pottery, including several "flasks" shaped like pointed amphorae but without handles.  A canteen broadly similar to the ones from Persepolis but slightly different in detail is here described as a "pilgrim flask," while another, highly decorated glazed one is considered to be of Egyptian influence.

Those looking to add more flare to high-class impressions may look to the variety of bronze bracelets, anklets, rings and earrings, many of which should be simple to fabricate from metal rod or strips with annealing and filing.  Beads of all sorts of materials appear, as well as small, ceramic human head and animal pendants.

Among toiletries are a pair of tweezers, several circular bronze mirrors, and tubes and applicator sticks for kohl, a kind of eyeliner.  The kohl tubes and sticks are not necessarily feminine accessories, as Xenophon claims that Astyages, like other Median men, wore "pencillings beneath his eyes."  (Some of the attached codes may clarify this but I'm only skimming for the time being.)

Achaemenid bronze bowls, rhytons, iron akinakai, sagarides, arrowheads, tanged javelin heads, a second gorytos cover decoration, snaffle bits, arm fibulae and cylinder seals mostly reinforce what we already know.  One socketed trilobate arrowhead is attached to a bronze chain for some reason, and most of the spearheads run to proportionally rather narrow, though they may have corroded at the edges.  There's also a bronze bell described as a horse fitting.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Further perspective on grave finds from Deve Hüyük

I stumbled across this Halehs World of Archaeology post on architecture at Paphos.  I haven't read the whole article yet but I was drawn to a section about three quarters of the way down discussing Deve Hüyük:

Also the pottery, “coarse redware lamps”, accompanying the dead soldiers, showed no likeness what so ever with any objects from the same period from Palestine, Syria or Iraq. However they do look extremely similar to finds in Dailaman in “…south-western shore of the Caspian Sea” in Iran.

Even though these finds do point to Iranian origins, they are not local to Persis or the Persians. It rather appears that these soldiers were from northern Iran, probably along the southern shores of the Caspian Sea, were also their “Cist tombs” would have been a local tradition. This region would have been during the Achaemenid period, under the Satrapy of Media.

Sobering thought there.

Most surprising for me is the line drawing featuring a dagger with a flanged tang and crescent pommel.  I may be the last to find this out, but I find the implication interesting that this type of dagger, popularly lumped in with the Luristan bronzes but actually widely used in northern Mesopotamia and northern Iran, is accurate (when made of iron) to at least the beginning of the Achaemenid period.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Amphictyonia.org is shutting down

Breaking:  In light of the fact that, as Christian Cameron observed, Amphicyonia's website is going unused, they have decided to stop renewing it.  Further contact with the Amphictyonic League will be through their Facebook page.

If there are any pages over at the old website you want to save, do it now.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Scythian bow from Upshot Archery

Thanks to Giannis Kadoglou for bringing this to our attention over at Amphictyonia's Facebook page.

Upshot Archery's Scythian bows have the most accurate shape of any low-end Scythian bow I've seen:  a more angular profile than the popular Grozer Old Scythian, they also have the asymmetric shape seen on many period bows but rare on the replica market, and appear to have thicker limbs.  Being made of PVC, they're extremely cheap, even at the regular price of US$100.

I am not sure how well the faux birch bark finish would pass inspection at any given reenactment event, though I expect it would be fine at Amphictyonia, and in my opinion the profile more than makes up for any possible drawback in that regard.  The two pieces currently available, as well as the one in the review below, are only 30 and 35 pounds, so it may be that Upshot focuses on low draw weights for this model.

The listed strung length of 52 and 55 inches/132 and 140cm make it somewhat larger than the Grozer and it will obviously require a larger gorytos because of that.  (Personally I've been hoping to find a smaller bow...)

BackyardBowyer posted this review to YouTube in July: