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Giving my spears the shaft

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On Thursday, I got to do one of the things I’ve been most excited to do – I got to stick haft my barbed spearheads. These spearheads are based on the destroyed Bloody Pool hoard making them an incredibly suitable case study to replicate and experiment with. I have a special place in my heart for spearheads – more so than swords and axes! They’re such awesome implements that have a fascinating history. These particular spearheads have never actually been reproduced before – a challenge Neil Burridge was keen to undertake! – and so, for the first time in nearly 3000 years, Neil and I have been able to haft and hold these fantastic objects in our hands in all their bronze-y glory.

Spears

The function of these objects has been much debated, with suggestions ranging from your standard “ritual/ceremonial” explanation, to hunting large game, to the slightly more obscure “fishing spear” interpretation for larger fish, such as sturgeon. This post won’t be engaging in that debate, except to say that at nearly 30cm long, these are mighty impressive spears, and even for large sturgeon, these might be overkill.

Complete Bronze Age spear shafts have only been found in very rare circumstances, with at least six complete examples currently known from across Europe. These range from 1 1/2 metres to over 2 1/2 metres long. None of these have been found hafted to barbed spearheads, however, so we had to make a rough guesstimate and settled on producing two metre long shafts (this was also partly determined by what I could fit into my modest Ford Fiesta!). The wood used is seasoned ash, which has been shown to be quite commonly used in the Bronze Age.

spears shafts

The clay cores of the spearheads were left in situ, as they were found still embedded in the broken Bloody Pool examples – no doubt in part because of the difficulty with removing the core –  and the spears were riveted with a large bronze peg through the socket, nearly abutting the projecting barbs.

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I have to say these things look pretty incredible. The shafts still need sanding, and the spearheads polishing, but they are without a doubt quite striking objects. Once polished, I imagine they will catch the sun pretty spectacularly and you can imagine these almost as battle standards from which you might hang other ornamentation.

Next month I’m hoping to test just how deadly they can be in some combat tests, before I smash them to pieces. Until then, I just have to try not to become too attached to them…

me and spear

Acknowledgements

I must of course thank and praise Neil Burridge at www.bronzeageswords.com for undertaking the challenge of producing these spears and the shafts.

About Me

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I’m Matt, 25 years old, a glutton for academic punishment, a lover of all things Bronze Age, always willing to continue talking even when my friends have lost interest, and never happy unless overwhelming busy. Find out more here and be sure to follow me on Twitter @mgknight24.

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3 Comments

  1. Sure you know far more than me about these things, but do you think that we limiting ourselves by calling them ‘spearheads’. Hafted, these look a mighty weapon for close quarters and not for throwing or stabbing – or at least not in the main for throwing and stabbing.

    They are short sword/dagger length, and knowing the extreme art of fighting with (for example) medieval swords these might be a different class of weapon that we don’t have a name for…?

    Used like a combination of a quarterstaff and long fighting dagger and …?

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    • mgknight21 says:

      Hi Douglas, Thanks for your comment. You raise a really interesting point. In Africa, I know there are certain societies that do haft what we would term “spearheads” on much shorter shafts and use them as ‘slashing’ weapons, rather than throwing/thrusting. This was actually tested by a PhD student called Kate Anderson up in Scotland (I think!) a couple of years ago on some Bronze Age replicas. She found that shorter shafts obviously completely changed the way spearheads might be used, but also produced marks that were in some cases more in keeping with what we see on the archaeological artefacts.
      With my current work, I’ve taken a very traditional approach for the simple reason that these types of spearheads have never been produced before and I wanted to reduce the variables I was dealing with by making a basic assumption that the heavy spearhead required a longer shaft to balance it. Of course, this is not to say that they might not have been on shorter shafts with a ferrule or balance at the opposite end, but I think that’s an experiment for future funding!!
      I do agree that the terms we apply limit can narrow our thought processes (“axehead” is a personal pet peeve!), but it’s difficult to know what terminology might be better suited and still understood by a wider audience. I’m keen to hear more of your thoughts and I really appreciate you getting in touch with this point as it’s a really interesting dilemma!!!
      All the best, Matt

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  2. Ahh – never knew that some places in Africa already do that and Kate Anderson has researched it. How great.

    Take your point about terminology

    Great website and fascinating PhD BTW 🙂

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