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Old 20th July 2005, 08:51 PM   #1
Tim Simmons
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Smile Sawfish sword

I went to town today and came home with this. It was an offer I could not refuse. We were shown one some time ago. I have always thought these came from Australasian islands like those in the Torres Staits and other south seas islands. Has anybody got better information. Oal 71cm. Tim
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Old 20th July 2005, 09:25 PM   #2
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Neat thing you've got there, Tim.

Here's a link to an SFI thread about one of these. It was, ostensibly, started as an excercise in "Critical Thinking". Despite that, some useful information was disseminated.

http://forums.swordforum.com/showth...&threadid=52963
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Old 20th July 2005, 09:44 PM   #3
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Quite interesting, a little windy and inconclusive, mine does not have the tourist handle. In combat against people dressed in very little this would be a quite terrible weapon. Tim
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Old 20th July 2005, 10:02 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim Simmons
... a little windy and inconclusive...



No question.

Cheers,
A
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Old 20th July 2005, 11:19 PM   #5
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Hi Andrew

I think the basic point is that sawfish, like swordfish, occur all over the world. Actually, that's not quite true--they used to occur all over the world, especially in the tropics (thanks to overfishing and pollution). I'd guess that quite a few people have seen the weapon possibilities in a sawfish bill, given the number of examples floating around.

So far as this specimen goes, the fish was a large one, the handle looks to be carved from part of the bill, and it could have been made almost anywhere. I don't think it's "authentic indigenous" Torres Islander material, simply because they're halfway between the Australian Aborigines and the southern shore Papuans, and this doesn't look nearly that primitive. The item could easily have been manufactured in the Torres Strait area, but if so, it's probably of relatively recent provenance.

One other thing: some sawfish species are endangered, although I'm too lazy at the moment to do the searching to find out which are covered. Given that this piece is hard to age or place, you might want to be a little careful about moving it between countries...

That's my 0.02 cents,

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Old 21st July 2005, 08:57 AM   #6
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These pictures of Torres Strait weapons come from 'The Torres Strait Collections of A.C.Haddon' David Moore, British Museum Publications 1984.
These items were collected 1898-9, they do not strike me as more primitive than weapons from anywhere else in the surrounding areas. In saying the Torres Straits and other south seas atolls, I think you would have to include some of Papua and indeed the coast of Australia. As with most artifacts from these areas, objects which date from before the late 1890s would be extremely rare. Tim
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Old 21st July 2005, 09:39 AM   #7
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hi tim,
have you been to the pitt rivers in oxford. i must admit i get caught up in one section everytime i go, but there is a wealth of oceanic and african items. i think clues may be found there as the collection was formed around 1900 and he kept relatively good records. there is also a large collection of early photos, all of an ethnic direction.
a nagging thought reminds me it may be shut for a while but worth pursuing.
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Old 21st July 2005, 01:11 PM   #8
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Hi B.I. I have been to the Pittrivers Museum it must have been about a decade ago. One collection I have not yet seen is the Fitzwilliam at Cambridge. The first world war and its end would have brought more europeans into the areas that were German south pacific territories in particulary the southern parts of Papua. Tim
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Old 21st July 2005, 01:12 PM   #9
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Hi Tim,

Thanks for the pics! You're quite right about the lack of "primitiveness" in the Torres Islands. What I was trying to get at (and failing) is that the shape of the grip on your sawfish bill (with a bulging handle and a pommel) doesn't look Oceanic. While there is one club (at the bottom) that has a pommel, the particular handle shape on the sawfish blade looks western to me. My personal guess is that someone made a sword out of a sawfish bill basically for fun. It could easily have come from the Torres Strait, and it could just as easily have been made by an Aussie as a native.

Basically, to me it's a neat blade, whatever its origin. Absent some more information on decoration, tool marks, or the species of sawfish, all I can say is that it's fairly old. I don't think we've got enough information to assign an origin to it at the moment.

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Old 21st July 2005, 01:26 PM   #10
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Hi Fearn, that Aussie must have been very busy, I bought this from a collection of weapons. Of this type of weapon this example was the best of three the others having damage, one with the handle broken off the other too may damaged teeth. I shall post picture of Papuan 'sword clubs' later this evening. They would seem to suggest what you consider as a european grip is some what universal in its pracitcality. Tim
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Old 21st July 2005, 01:52 PM   #11
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Hi Tim,

What you suggest is entirely possible. While I don't recommend damaging collections, you might want to find out how easy it is to carve a sawfish bill. It's not steel, and it might be possible to make carve such a sword in an afternoon, given decent tools. That's why tool marks would be useful.

So far as ID'ing this sawfish species, it turns out that sawfish taxonomy is kind of messed up. It looks like your specimen is not a bigtooth or smalltooth sawfish (see this link to a Florida museum). If true, this means that your sawfish wasn't caught in the Atlantic. There's a grad student at Iowa State who is currently reworking sawfish taxonomy. He might be able to give you some pointers on how to identify the sawfish that donated its bill here.

In any case, I'm looking forward to seeing the other pieces.

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Old 21st July 2005, 02:20 PM   #12
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Hi Fearn, I should be hard at work but something is disstrating me The possiblity of an Atlantic African origin is possible, the collection was largely 19th cent west African and Congo pieces with a few pieces from Indonesia and a few Papuan shields. I have been looking very closely at the carving of the handle with a loop and do not forget carving is my work. I can see no signs that this is one of an afternoons production. There are no saw or file marks which to me suggest it was cut with small hand tools the few marks do not give a good clue as to what type of tool was used. The handle has been painted with a black substance rather like tar. I would have thought it rather hard work in a dug out, to catch enougth big ones to carve a pile of these. I would be quite pleased to find out if these are from the coastal areas of say Gabon or the Congo. Clubs later work is breathing down my neck. Tim
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Old 21st July 2005, 02:44 PM   #13
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Hi Tim,

That certainly helps. I'm glad you can provide an expert opinion on the tools that made that sawfish sword.

Given that my understanding of sawfish biology comes almost entirely from the web, I believe that the Bigtooth and Smalltooth sawfishes are the only species in the tropical Atlantic, both in the Carribean, the South American coast, and the African coast (they're coastal animals apparently).

Basically, your sword looks like it has too many teeth to be a smalltooth sawfish. That means that it didn't come from the Carribean or from west Africa.

There are 3-6 other sawfish in the world, presumably in the Indian and Pacific oceans. If the saw didn't come from one of the Atlantic species, it came from one of the Indopacific ones.

Personally, I'd recommend emailing that grad student. Speaking as a former biology grad student, most of us are quite happy when someone takes an interest in our particular branch of esoteric knowledge. He might be able to tell you what species of sawfish that came from, and where that species lives.

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Old 21st July 2005, 03:09 PM   #14
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Old 21st July 2005, 03:26 PM   #15
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Thanks Rick. That's the point about CITES. As for seven species... here is some of the grad student's (Vicente Faria) work that he's presenting at a conference this year. Here's the abstract (note the title):

FARIA, VICENTE V.; MCDAVITT, MATTHEW T.

Trying again two centuries later: an essay on the various species of sawfish
(Chondrichthyes, Pristiformes)

The sawfishes, family Pristidae, is comprised of seven nominal species: Anoxypristis cuspidata, Pristis pectinata, P. zijsron, P. clavata, P. perotteti, P. microdon and P. pristis. However, due to considerable taxonomic confusion this number may in fact vary between four and ten. Among the reasons for this taxonomic disarray is that many of the original species descriptions were extremely abbreviated, and in some cases not even based on specimens, or based only on isolated anatomical parts; only two of the six type specimens are available for examination today; poor representation of specimens in collections, which mostly consist of dried rostra or very young specimens; and scarcity of these animals in their natural habitat due to overfishing. In the present study we reviewed sawfish taxonomy based on evidence from (1) morphological (external morphometric and meristic characters) and molecular data (DNA sequence from one mitochondrial gene, NADH-2) of representative specimens, (2) museum records and historical specimens, (3) distributional information derived from archaeological remains and anthropological artifacts and (4) review of the primary literature. Inferences based on our results are discussed in the context of sawfish diversity, geographical distribution and historical taxonomy.

Basically, he's saying that the distinctions between species are based on missing or degraded specimens, and he's trying to straighten the record out. This is normal work, even for CITES-listed species (most rare things have not been well studied). It's also why I'd suggest contacting Mr. Faria and getting an expert opinion on the source of the saw.

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Old 21st July 2005, 03:49 PM   #16
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I shall contact this man. This piece is not new, with close inspection you can see that it is at least from the turn of the 19-20th cent. Rick, that info was great, this could develope nicely either, way I am glad I got it, I could not knock the price down enough on the first piece I liked. Clubs later. Tim
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Old 21st July 2005, 04:31 PM   #17
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Gotta love Google !

Until we get the species straightened out . I would see no reason why this bill could not have come from Central America .
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Old 21st July 2005, 04:47 PM   #18
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Hi Rick,

Welllll.....

According to the current biology, there are two species in the Atlantic, the big-tooth and small-toothed sawfishes. The big-tooth has fewer and larger teeth, the small-toothed has smaller and more teeth. Thing is, Tim's specimen has more teeth than small-toothed sawfishes do.

Because of that, I'd suggest that it's neither the big-toothed nor the small-toothed species. If so, it didn't come from the Atlantic.

I do know from another book (Throwim Way Leg by Tim Flannery) that there is a sawfish species that allegedly lives only in one lake in Irian Jaya. Now, I do not think that this is the source of the Tim's sawbill, but I do suspect that this lake species might be one of the questionable ones, based on what I know about biology. My guess is that the questionable species (between 2 and 6 of them) probably occur in the Indopacific, especially around Indonesia, PNG and Australia.

Bottom line: my guess is that the Tim's blade came from the Indo Pacific. Which species it came from is the interesting question. Hopefully, Tim's got a complete enough Bill that the sawfish expert can identify it from a photo.

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Old 21st July 2005, 06:03 PM   #19
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Hi Fearn , you have a point there (or many) .

http://hometown.aol.com/nokogiri/page10.html

I loved Throwim Way Leg ; a great read .
Some years since I read it ; it means take a journey IIRC , no ?

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Old 21st July 2005, 06:59 PM   #20
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Fearn, this picture of a club from the Massim people of SE Papua 19-20th cent is not the picture I had in mind but it will do. Quite a nice handle, not primitive at all. I will post the other when I find it. Sometimes you look so hard you can not see a thing. Email and pictures sent to 'student' with a bit of luck he might help. It is possible that this would not actually be used for combat. Thanks for all your comments. Tim
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Old 21st July 2005, 07:30 PM   #21
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I did not expect it quite so quickly, this is what 'student' had to say.

From what we currently know and accept, the species you have is 'ANOXYPRISTIS CUSPIDATA'
The distribution of this species ranges from North Indian to West Pacific, from China Sea to Northern Australia.

I do not think it is from South America, so the Torres Straits and Papuan areas look to be the most likely place of origin when added to the other information found today. I would just like to say thanks for all your help even though we have gone full circle it was most enjoyable, shame about my work Tim
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Old 21st July 2005, 09:10 PM   #22
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Yep, that was fun. Where did you get that great image of the Massim club?

The good news is now you have an ID from an authority and a provenance of sorts--at least for the raw material. Personally, I still think a western sailor carved it, but so long as we're cheerful about agreeing to disagree, who cares?

The other news is that Anoxypristis cuspidata is listed as "endangered" in the IUCN Red Book , so you might have import/export problems if you try to move it internationally.

Fearn

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Old 21st July 2005, 10:29 PM   #23
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Hi Fearn,
The picture comes from a relitively inexpensive book "Oceanic Art" Anthony JP Meyer, Konemann. I am not fighting for the last word but if we put the boot on the other foot, how about you showing me that it is carved by a salior, at a time when objects finer than this could be bought or taken for very little. Tim
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Old 21st July 2005, 10:53 PM   #24
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THE FIRST SWORD PICTURED APPEARS TO HAVE THE HANDLE SAWED OUT OF THE BASE OF THE ROSTRUM WHICH IS PROBABLY MORE LIKE ONES MADE IN PRIMATIVE SOCIETYS. THE ONES WITH WOOD HANDLES AND GAURDS ECT. ARE MOST LIKELY NAUTICAL MADE OR COPYED FROM EUROPEAN WEAPONS BY NATIVES. THERE WAS ANOTHER OLD THREAD THAT COVERED WEAPONS WITH TEETH OR BILLS FROM VARIOUS REGIONS OF THE WORLD. I THINK IT STARTED WITH THE HAWAIIAN LEI O MANO AND HAD QUITE A FEW PICTURES.
LOGICALLY LARGE BILLFISH OR SAWFISH ROSTRUMS WOULD HAVE BEEN UNUSUAL AND FEARSOME AND WOULD HAVE BEEN EASILY CONVERTED TO WEAPONS OR CEREMONIAL OBJECTS IN PRIMATIVE CULTURES SO WERE PROBABLY USED WHERE AVAILABLE.
MANY OF THE EXAMPLES I HAVE PERSONALLY SEEN OVER THE YEARS APPEAR TO BE THE WORK OF SAILORS DURING THE TIME OF SAILING SHIPS. THEY HAD LOTS OF TIME AND TRAVELED TO MANY PORTS AND LIKED TO BRING BACK ODD THINGS FROM THEIR VOYAGES AND HAD PLENTY OF TIME TO MAKE MANY INTERESTING CRAFTS. I HAVE SOME OLD BROADBILL SWORDFISH BILLS THAT I PLAN ON FIXING UP ONE OF THESE DAYS, THEY ARE QUITE HARD SO WORKING THEM UP WILL BE SLOW EXCEPT FOR WHAT CAN BE DONE WITH A SAW.

THE STUDENT MENTIONED ARCHELOGICAL FINDS THAT WOULD BE A GOOD PLACE TO START LOOKING FOR EVIDENCE OF PREHISTORIC USE. SOME OTHER CLUB TYPES COULD ALSO HAVE BEEN PATTERENED AFTER THE SAWFISH BILL. THE OCEANIC ONES USING SHARK TEETH AND THE ONES IN SOUTH AMERICA USING OBSIDIAN BLADES COME TO MIND.
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Old 22nd July 2005, 07:28 AM   #25
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I would just like to question the rather sweeping asumption that these and in saying so, many weapons made from animal parts or bone should be labelled 'sailor made or tourist trinket'. Many peoples where metal , the knowledege and equipment to make metal weapons is limited, the use of natural materials is common. All those cassowary bone knives, that shell axe post earlier in this thread and many more can all too easily be dismissed by saying 'sailor made' and all the time this statement is unsubstantiated. This is handy when you either do not Know much about or can not prove much about the material in question. The collecting world has been here before with artifacts from other lands, Africa comes to mind, also the bird knife post I made some years ago. All I know is that this came from a reputable source. Tim

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Old 22nd July 2005, 02:20 PM   #26
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Hi Tim,

I would agree that it was made for use (as opposed to the sailor theory), if you could demonstrate that it's more than 130 years old. That's when the Torres Islands were annexed to Brittain (Torres Island History Link). I'd also be happier if there were use marks along the blade, which I don't see in the photos. As sawfishes reportedly don't regrow lost or damaged teeth, I doubt that the condition of the teeth is evidence for human use.

In PNG, most of the bone tools were phased out in the 1950s in the highlands. Along the coast, it happened much earlier. Similarly, bone and wood weapons are still used in the remotest parts of Amazonia and the Andaman Islands, but the sad fact is that advanced cultures have done a pretty good job of penetrating the rest of the globe.

While the Torres Islands weren't much visited before the 1860's, they lie directly on the major sea route between India and Australia. Assuming that's where this sword came from, they aren't in a good location to retain traditional weaponry such as you're assuming this sword is.

On the other hand, I have yet to find a sailor's carved sawfish bill, at least on the web. I'm not too surprised, given that Google is not showing this conversation when I search "sawfish sword." I'm also bugged by the "tar" on the pommel. If that is truly tar, I'd suggest that strengthens the case for it being sailor-made. The Torres strait islands don't have petroleum deposits...

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Old 22nd July 2005, 03:17 PM   #27
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Hi Fearn,
I do not know if it is tar as you speak of. If ? it is a type of tar then tar substances can be obtained from the burning of vegetable matter, this is done in the Congo and used in a similar fashion. One of our German members might be able to help as I believe the best collection of PNG artifacts is in Berlin. Your arguement to me still seems centered around your interpretation of a universal handle form as european. Tim

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Old 22nd July 2005, 03:49 PM   #28
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Hi Tim,

You're partially right, although we disagree on how universal the shape is. The other part is that I think that the bill is too young to have seen use as a weapon, and I don't see any evidence on the blade that it was used as a weapon.

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Old 22nd July 2005, 04:41 PM   #29
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Hi Fearn,
Not all weapons get used we all have old weapons with no real signs of combat. There is the possibility that this could be like the parade weapons of Africa particulary if the fish was a totem and function as a religous object. How may handles have same shape, crusader swords, many Indo/Persian swords "tulwars" and from Indonesia I think they are known as Batak swords. Form and function tend to operate on universal principles. Tim
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Old 22nd July 2005, 05:01 PM   #30
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Hi Tim,

I agree with you on form following function. The major reason I question the handle design is the swelled grip, not the crescent pommel. Just for comparison's sake, Tribalarts.com has a sawfish bill sword made by the Batak (I believe), and it has a straight handle with a wrist cord.

So far as parade items.... It might be possible, but it depends pretty critically on the age of the piece. Assuming once again that it came from the Torres Islands, their history is fairly interesting. They were colonized and missionized around 1860-1870, were finally given a bit more freedom around WWI, and staged a peaceful strike/rebellion in the late 1930's.

The problem is that both of us date this weapon to around the turn of the 20th century. It's pretty obviously old, but if it was made in the Torres Islands, it was at a time when they went to Church every Sunday and the kids went to mission school. If it was less than 50 or more than 130 years old, I'd be thinking more strongly that it was native made, especially as artwork as you suggest.

Nowdays, the Torres Islanders produce some neat artwork (admittedly, I'm partial to Oceanic art in general), and my impression is that this is a post-WWII phenomenon.

This all assumes that it came from the Torres Islands. If it came from the Massim (eastern tip of PNG and related islands, including the Trobriands), then you could make a stronger argument that it was native made, although I'd still disagree

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