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archer 19th June 2011 03:07 AM

Tlingit Double Dagger
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This came in the mail today. It appears to be the real deal. It was spendy as someone else wanted almost as bad. The mystery for the moment is it is fluted on both sides one other I have photos of is fluted opposite side concave. Does anyone know of examples that I could access online? Thank you, Steve

tom hyle 19th June 2011 08:46 AM


colin henshaw 19th June 2011 09:28 AM

Looks good to me, but I am not an expert. Have you tried the American Museum of Natural History website ?

Jim McDougall 19th June 2011 09:21 PM

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Looking at this beautiful dagger I was compelled to search for more information. One of the greatest things to me about these weapons is learning from them, and it is exciting when information accompanies them, so heres what I found.

It seemed unusual from the examples I found, that this one had such perfectly symmetrical flutes rather than the usual midrib in the blade.
While some Tlingit daggers are dual blades like this (somewhat reminiscent of the Indian, Syrian, Sudanese haladie) others are with single blade and with two somewhat voluted arms extended up and outward from the opposite end of the grip.

The leather straps wrapped on the grip are part of a lanyard or tether which is usually wrapped about the body and wrist, these daggers are sheathed and worn at the chest.

This example is intriguing, not just by the superior quality metalwork and fluted blades, but the copper cuffs at the blade roots. These would suggest a weapon intended to reflect wealth or status, which this certainly appears to be. As I was amazed by the apparant skill of the maker, I wondered at what point the tribes began the use of iron over copper for blades.

I found this entry on the Tlingit daggers in "The American Indian" , A. Hyatt Verrill, N.Y. 1927, p.374,
"...the war knives or daggers were most remarkable. Originally these were made of native copper, hammered and ground into shape; but with the arrival of white men this metal was discarded in favor of steel. Securing old files by trade with the whites, these Indians softened, cut, ground and worked the steel into the most beautifully made and highly finished double edged knives. Often these are deeply fluted along the blade; not infrequently they are inlaid with silver or copper, and occasionally one is seen with the steel blade welded to a copper section near the handle".

It is worthy of note that this material was written in 1927, long before the considerable expansion in these Northwest regions and before widespread collecting of these rather esoteric items became popular, so it increases the likelihood of describing weapons actually still in use contemporarily. I would suggest this dagger corresponds more with these earlier known types and would fall into the 'real deal' category! :)

Excellent reading concerning the Tlingit, and to some extent the weapons can be found in:

"Crossroads of Continents" Ed. William Fitzhugh and A, Crowell, 1988 which has the paper, "Tlingit: People of the Wolf and the Raven" by Fredrick de Luna.

"The Evolution of Tlingit Daggers", Ashley Kristen Verplank, University of Washington thesis, 2009

"Keepers of the Totem" Time'Life books, 1993

"Metallurgy of the Tlingit, Dene, and Eskimo" John Witthoft & Frances Eyman, 'Expedition" Spring 1969

I'm glad this outstanding dagger was shared here, and I hope this information will be somewhat helpful in learning more about these daggers and the tribes who used them.

All best regards,

Jens Nordlunde 19th June 2011 09:45 PM

Well done Jim :).

Jim McDougall 19th June 2011 10:20 PM

Originally Posted by Jens Nordlunde
Well done Jim :).

Thank you so much my friend!! :)


David 19th June 2011 10:49 PM

We have, of course, explored these daggers on these forums before. You can find some good information here:
I look forward to more photos of yours. :)

archer 19th June 2011 11:06 PM

Some Info Links
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I have to second Jens' comments. Here are links to Information on the copper types mainly. They give a lot of incite.

Jim, I should mentioned that it's 23 5/8 inches long, probably a war dagger, so i don't know how they were worn. You're right about the neck sheaths for the smaller ones. The hide sheaths incorporated copper on the ends to give the needed protection. You must have an enormous library. I need time to go thru all the very much appreciated information, Thanks

Jim McDougall 19th June 2011 11:21 PM

Thanks very much Archer! this really is a beauty and had no idea of the size.....sure sounds like a war dagger OK! Probably didnt wear this one on the chest...would look like one of those rapper medallions that weigh half a ton :)
I wish I did still have my library with me......but the few books I have crammed everywhere in this RV is why we call it 'the bookmobile' :)
Thank you again for sharing this with us, what intriguing history.
Congratulations and all the best,

ThePepperSkull 19th June 2011 11:41 PM

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I one day wish to own a very nice Tlinggit piece like the one you have. It's gorgeous! growing up in the Pacific Northwest, Traditional Native art (Mostly Haida) has been around me for as long as I have been here that often times I forget its beauty. Not only the blades that the likes of the Tlinggit have made but also statues and totemic pieces. (More notable around where I live are pieces made by the traditional Haida artist Bill Reid. My favourite piece, a statue of his statue called "Chief of the Underworld Sea" is the central piece when you enter the local Aquarium)

Jim, many thanks for the information as well. I know a very limited about about these so more recources on the matter is a godsend.

Again, very beautiful knife.

tom hyle 21st June 2011 06:48 PM

Do you think the ones with the antenae (are they eyes?) are from a different ethnicity or locality than the ones with the midribs and/or wrapped ricassoes? Does that copper wrap cover the tang as well?

archer 22nd June 2011 03:15 AM

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Jim i have ordered a DVD of the Evolution of Tlingit daggers. My Jun 19th post has a link well worth looking over regarding the Athabaskan version of forged copper daggers. Ward the swirls are volutes they appear in older European weapons and may be a link to Migration to Alaska. The copper bolsters are separate and swedged on.
I put up some shots of the volute daggers. first from the top is all copper Athabaskan/ Dene in origins the third is all copper both of these are flat on one side but, not the rounded profile of the third and fourth daggers. Copper Tlingit daggers have a stepped central ridge due in part its thought to cold forming. I haven't figured out where these other dagger came from.

I found a forum thread that mentions, about the Slave killer never having actually killed, that being left up to a double bladed dagger called goox du een. if the slave wasn't released??

I included closeups of the blades textures in hopes some of our knowledgeable metal experts may see something of interest in them.
Oh, the eyes question Story goes they emulate rams horns.

aiontay 22nd June 2011 03:38 AM

Is it possible that cut down sword blades were made in to daggers? On the southern plains we used sword and bayonet reconfigured as spear heads.

archer 22nd June 2011 04:55 AM

reaponse to cut down swords
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Hi Aiontay, These are supposed to be one piece of steel. There have been some fakes done as you describe and some made by for the tourist trade. So be careful. When this one came in I was puzzled by various areas on the blades
being too shiny. hopefully high nickel content. Here's one of a few said to made from Meteorite. They think that several of these were made by a lady smith from The Northern interior of Alaska.

kino 22nd June 2011 05:08 AM

A visit to the Burke Museum's web page might shed some light on your beautiful knife

The Burke have a few in their collection.

Jim McDougall 22nd June 2011 06:12 AM

Archer I'm really glad to have been able to add some useful information to the outstanding work you are doing on collecting outstanding examples of these weapons, and to see you have ordered the DVD. You are really putting together some comprehensive work on these tremendously esoteric weapons which will better present and preserve the history of them and the fascinating tribes who used them.

Tom, good observation and some of these do seem to have eyes, which would fall nicely into the totemic applications clearly present in these cultures, however these voluted features are stylized geometric devices it would seem. It is interesting that this type feature is indeed present on many early weapons in Europe back to the Hallstadt period and the swords with antenna or anthromorphic hilts.

Archer, as you note, this same basic voluted feature with reference to the 'rams horns'. This feature was well known in Celtic art as such, and actually became an integral component on many Scottish basket hilts at the connecting bars of the saltire plates, which are sometimes described as 'rams horns'. These are in varying shapes but with the same general voluted figure.

These kinds of details truly are tempting in wondering and imagining, just how far and through how much time these subtle forms and symbolisms along with many other aspects of anthropology might have travelled. While most scholarship insists that convergent evolution is the most likely view, we are constantly learning how much more globally connected these cultures and civilizations really were. It was much more networking and over long periods of time, but still the nuances of influence found thier way in diffusing far and wide.

Pepper, thank you for your kind comments, and thank you for sharing the beautiful photo! You are lucky to have grown up in one of the most picturesque and fascinating regions in the world. I have travelled some up there, but only as far as Puget Sound, and there one cannot help but being overwhelmed by the greenery and history of these American Indian cultures.
I look forward to going back one day, maybe when gas prices come down a little :) I can get this rig back up there!

All the very best,

archer 22nd June 2011 04:26 PM

A Question
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I'm puzzled as to just how the apparently Separate copper bolsters were fused together and pleased to see Solder wasn't a method. I've included several shots
of on side that shows old separation and some of those still firmly fused? or connected. Also a link to a bit on Haida warfare, etc.
note the armor and the dagger displayed.
Thank you all for your input, Steve

archer 22nd June 2011 04:30 PM

Disregard I went to edit the link and stated a separate post Steve

tom hyle 23rd June 2011 02:23 PM

Originally Posted by aiontay
Is it possible that cut down sword blades were made in to daggers? On the southern plains we used sword and bayonet reconfigured as spear heads.

Apparently as people who were already metal smiths, the North West coastal peoples preferred to reforge rather than regrind their source materials, so it's much harder to tell. Word of mouth is that they used such things as worn out tools, iron tires, and even barrel hoops. Certainly a large chunk of carbon steel like a foreign sword blade might be in danger of getting reforged in such a community.
The Maori use a wooden sword ("club") with a rounded or squared tip, that has on the back end of its handle, a dagger blade. There is a resemblance. (also to a certain African type though on those the backspike isn't actually a blade)
I notice cultural and artistic resemblances do not seem to be contained by supposed barriers like oceans to anything like the extent that is sometimes supposed.

Tim Simmons 23rd June 2011 09:18 PM

The item that started this thread does indeed look as if it could be from the 19th century. It can be bit of a minefield Native American stuff "I have learned at my cost" but it is out there. Perhaps you are lucky. Much like the British Museum which has massive totem poles in its atrium. Picked from the source just at the time, late 19th century when the use of local art was at its most weak in a cultural sense. :shrug:

This will sound a rather "erich von daniken" but I am begining to believe that iron work was happening in the Pacific North West well before official Western/European/USA contact.

Jim McDougall 23rd June 2011 10:10 PM

Originally Posted by Tim Simmons
The item that started this thread does indeed look as if it could be from the 19th century. It can be bit of a minefield Native American stuff "I have learned at my cost" but it is out there. Perhaps you are lucky. Much like the British Museum which has massive totem poles in its atrium. Picked from the source just at the time, late 19th century when the use of local art was at its most weak in a cultural sense. :shrug:

This will sound a rather "erich von daniken" but I am begining to believe that iron work was happening in the Pacific North West well before official Western/European/USA contact.

Indeed it was, from contact with China and Siberia via trade networks operating in the regions to the north.

Tim Simmons 24th June 2011 05:53 PM

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Just happen to find myself in town today making a delivery so I took a few snap, Japanese lunch and two or three beers.

Tim Simmons 24th June 2011 05:54 PM

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This one too.

David 24th June 2011 06:16 PM

Originally Posted by Tim Simmons
This will sound a rather "erich von daniken" but I am begining to believe that iron work was happening in the Pacific North West well before official Western/European/USA contact.

I could be mistaken, but i believe it has already been established that iron working was taking place in the PNW before European contact. Nothing van Daniken about it as i don't think this skill has much to do with space aliens...

Jim McDougall 24th June 2011 06:52 PM

Thanks Tim, as I was noting when I mentioned that iron working was already established was that your observation was astute and quite far from the von Daniken malady. Thank you for the pictures!

Battara 24th June 2011 08:31 PM

Wasn't von Daniken an alien? :D

David 24th June 2011 09:51 PM

Originally Posted by Battara
Wasn't von Daniken an alien? :D

That all depends on where you are from... ;)

Jim McDougall 24th June 2011 10:02 PM

Originally Posted by Battara
Wasn't von Daniken an alien? :D

One thing for sure he sold a lot of books! Kinda reminds me of the time I went into a book store and was trying to find a history of Africa.....after browsing through it, I looked at the store clerk and said, 'what kind of history of Africa is this? there's not a single word about Tarzan!!!! :) The guy nearly fell off his ladder.

fearn 24th June 2011 10:12 PM


Unless we're talking iron ground from a meteorite (as in the Cape York meteorites), I'm pretty sure that the Pacific Northwest Indians didn't make their own iron.
Here's why:

1. Geology. As a west-coaster, I know a little about the geology here. It's great for gold. Copper too, in the interior. Iron? Not so much. I looked online, and I could find only one iron mine in British Columbia. The geologic environment's not very good for it. If we were talking about the area around the Great Lakes, I'd be more of a believer, because there's a lot of iron in the ground around there. Oddly, they didn't work iron there.

Anyway, iron is comparatively rare in the PNW.

2. We're missing all the other infrastructure that goes with iron working and smelting. The most important is that you can't do it in a wood fire. You need a forge, which needs charcoal, to produce the heat required to smelt iron (or even to work it).

Such heat is good for other things, like ceramics and high quality pottery, and these often come first in the archeological record.

Did the PNW people even use pottery? I don't think so. I'm also pretty sure they didn't know how to make charcoal either.

Since the infrastructure to work iron is missing and the ore is rare, I'm pretty sure they weren't making iron pieces prior to contact. Again, they may have obtained bits of meteorite and ground them into useful shapes, but that's a different kind of iron use.

My 0.0002 cents,


Jim McDougall 25th June 2011 12:28 AM

Hi Fearn,
This is what happens when I try to be laconic :) hence my usual Tolstoyean ramblings. What I actually meant was that the Tlingit were somewhat skilled metalworkers pre-contact, and that they had learned to work iron, having expounded on thier skills with copper. I did not mean that there were smelters and forges, nor were these areas any type of Native American 'Birmingham'. :) My mention of Chinese and Siberians implied that the metalwork skills were learned from these peoples, which is not correct. I found more accurate detail in "The Tlingit Indians" by George Thornton Emmons, annotated by Frederica de Luna, 1991, pp.187-89);
"...while iron ore is found in Alaska, the natives had no means of reducing the ore to precious metal. It would seem that before the coming of trade vessels toward the close of the 18th century, the coast natives had already procured small bits of manufactured iron, either from wreckage or from inland southern trade from Mexico, and knew its use. From thier knowledge of copper they soon learned to work it into weapons, tools and ornaments, and almost invariably followed the original forms, as may be observed in thier manufactured spear heads, adzes, knives etc which are exact replicas of the stone implements".

Apparantly Emmons' work was published as paper #70 for the American Museum of Natural History at earlier date, and this reference is republished and annotated by DeLuna.

It would appear they did have charcoal as Emmons continues, " working steel and iron, they learned to soften it by heating it with charcoal, enabling them to work it more easily, and then bring the temper back by plunging it into a bath of oil and water".

It appears that iron nails, fittings etc. from wrecked ships' driftwood which was carried to these shores by the Japanese current had presented the opportunity to experience this metal to the natives, already well skilled in copperworking. Learning to work the metal gave them the basic knowledge which was expanded with the arrival of trade ships later in the 18th century. It has been suggested that ironworkers may have been among survivors of these wrecks which included Russian, Japanese, and even Spanish ships from as early as 1745.

I am always amazed at the vast distances covered in trade networking, which was well established far into prehistoric times, and how these kinds of primitive technology were passed to regions so remarkably faraway. While the Tlingit did not have the means to produce iron or steel, they did have the skills to develop working it quite well, which made iron one of the most desired commodities of trade sought by them.

All the best,

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