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Old 29th June 2011, 11:27 AM   #1
VVV
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Default Sea cow used for Iban hilts

I just had three Swedish and German blade smiths visiting me to study some of my Indonesian and Filipino blades. We had a great time and I also learned a lot on how some of my blades were made, why it has this or that shape and how some of the twist core and laminations are done etc.
One eye opener for me was that two of my Iban hilts are made of sea cow bone, not antler as I always considered all Dayak hilts to be made from without even reflecting about it. Actually when it was brought up it was easy to spot the other hilt as the colour is totally different than from the whiter antler hilts.
By coincidence (or maybe not?) both of them are Iban/Sea Dayak and both of them are on Langgai Tinggangs.
Maybe someone else will discover this material on their hilts too?

Michael
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Old 29th June 2011, 11:47 AM   #2
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Michael

Very nice hilt. What tells you it is sea cow and not antler apart from the colour which could just be a factor of age and use ? or is this another definite / maybe scenario ?

I have something which looks similar, I always thought it was antler, but now you have me doubting

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Old 29th June 2011, 11:57 AM   #3
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Interesting Michael!

I noticed the different in colours of "antler" handles before, but I always thought it might be that the antler had different colours by itself?
I've seen them by very "teeth"white to very darkbrown. A friendcollector told me once that the whiter pieces have seen a lot more sun as the pieces with darker handles which probably were more used in the forests as in open area where sunlight was shining.....(but I don't know if this is true and what his source was for this statement).

Let's suppose this would be sea cow, from which part could it be than?
Is there also seen a difference in material/structure, besides of the colour?

Maurice
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Old 29th June 2011, 12:51 PM   #4
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According to the smith that used sea cow for his knife handles it's both the yellow surface layer as well as the spongy parts inside that characterize it as sea cow.
If I remember him correctly it was the top part of the back bone used for the first hilt (Maybe I need to recheck this with him or let him answer directly when he is back home again in Germany tomorrow night?).

Michael
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Old 29th June 2011, 01:36 PM   #5
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VERY INTERESTING!! I HAVE ALWAYS ADDED THE FACTS ON THE SIZE OF SEA COW TEETH TO ELIMINATE THE POSSIBILITY OF THEIR BEING BIG ENOUGH TO MAKE IVORY KERIS HILTS OR MOST OTHER HILTS.
USING SEA COW BONE HAS NOT COME UP BEFORE BUT AS THE ANIMAL IS LARGE AND THE BONES LARGE ENOUGH AND DENSE ENOUGH FOR USE AS MANDAU HANDLES AND OTHER ITEMS AS WELL. THE SEA COW HAS BEEN HUNTED FOR A VERY LONG TIME AND IS STILL HUNTED IN MANY AREAS. TODAY IT IS HUNTED FOR FOOD IN MOST REGIONS WHERE IT OCCURS.
SO IT IS LIKELY THE BONE COULD BE USED AS IT WOULD HAVE BEEN AVAILABLE AND PERHAPS EASIER TO OBTAIN THAN DEER ANTLER FOR VILLAGES NEAR THE SEA AND RIVERS.
A LOCAL WHO HAS WORKED WITH ANTLER AND SEA COW WOULD BE ABLE TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE BUT I WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO AS ALL I HAVE STUDIED HAS BEEN FOSSILIZED. THANKS FOR THIS INTERESTING POST IT IS NEW KNOWLEGE TO ME.
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Old 29th June 2011, 01:41 PM   #6
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Default Given the nature

Given the nature of practices of old and the easy availability of bone, could these hilts not be Human bone
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Old 29th June 2011, 03:33 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VVV
it's both the yellow surface layer as well as the spongy parts inside that characterize it as sea cow.


Hello Michael,

Can this smith send examples of seacow bone for comparisson ?
To me almost all bones are spongy inside. and colour can be influenced by a lot of things.
It would be interesting to know if there is a very clear difference in structure.

Ps. if he uses seacow bone, is this new or old ? aren't seacows protected species ?

Best regards,
Willem
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Old 30th June 2011, 03:05 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VVV
According to the smith that used sea cow for his knife handles it's both the yellow surface layer as well as the spongy parts inside that characterize it as sea cow.
If I remember him correctly it was the top part of the back bone used for the first hilt (Maybe I need to recheck this with him or let him answer directly when he is back home again in Germany tomorrow night?).

Michael

I am not denying the possibility of this, however i'm not sure that i am prepared to accept this without question based on the identification od a single smith who has used the material in his own blades. As has been mentioned, just about all bone and antler has a spongy appearance on the interior and color is very dependent upon environmental circumstance.
Now, if you can get a marine biologist to make the same ID....
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Old 30th June 2011, 08:37 PM   #9
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It being summer, I'd suggest taking this piece to the nearest large natural history museum or major university with a large zoology department. In your country, that is (see last paragraph). What you want is someone with a dugong skeleton on hand, to compare the piece with.

The issue is that most of it is so sculpted that it will be difficult to tell if it is a dugong vertebra (top of the back) or not, without that same vertebra to compare it in three dimensions (which willl present an opportunity for some great photos, incidentally). Oddly enough, museums tend to have such skeletons around, or to know who does have them. In my experience, if they're not too busy, they also enjoy puzzles like determining the source of a bone.

I'm a little puzzled, because dugong ribs (not vertebrae) have a reputation for being unusually dense. So far as I know, they act to ballast the animals in the water. Unfortunately, it's been handled so much that non-destructive DNA sampling will simply pick up human DNA.

As for legal status, yes, dugongs are in Appendix 1 of CITES, which is the most restrictive one.

Best,

F
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Old 30th June 2011, 10:44 PM   #10
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Cool sea cow hilts

thank you for sharing this,i will have to dig out my dyak swords and have a closer look,i never knew before reading this post that they used sea cow i also assumed it was stag they were made from . regards napoleon
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Old 30th June 2011, 11:45 PM   #11
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IN MANY PARTS OF THE WORLD PEOPLE LIVE THE WAY THEY ALWAYS HAVE IF THEY CATCH A SEA TURTLE OR SEA COW THE FAMILY EATS WELL. BUT MOSTLY THEY LIVE ON MORE SIMPLE OR BLAND FARE. I HAVE SEEN BOTH SEA TURTLE AND DUGONG SKELETONS IN TRASH HEAPS IN SEVERAL PLACES SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE.
I AM DEFINITELY FOR PROTECTING ENDANGERED SPECIES BUT I CAN'T BLAME A MAN LIVING IN A PRIMATIVE SOCIETY FOR TAKEING WHAT NATURE HAS BROUGHT HIM AND HIS ANCESTORS TO FEED THEIR FAMILIES. OFTEN THE LAW TAKES THIS INTO CONSIDERATION AND SOME TRIBES ARE ALLOWED TO HUNT AND TAKE A CERTIAN PROTECTED SPECIES IN REGULATED NUMBERS SO THE POPULATION IS NOT IMPACTED MUCH.
I DO HATE TO SEE SOMETHING USEFUL AND COOL THROWN INTO THE TRASH HEAP, OR LAYING BY THE ROADSIDE TO ROT AND WASTED BUT THATS THE LAW.
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Old 1st July 2011, 12:08 AM   #12
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Vandoo,

I don't blame anyone for making a hilt out of a bit of bone, either, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was made before dugongs were listed as endangered species (in 2000, AFAIK).

The issue here is that, depending on the customs agents of a particular country and the amount of documentation VVV has, if this langgai tinggang crosses a border, it might get confiscated. That's the reality of living in a world where many really cool species are endangered.

The reason I mention this is that I know people in England who would love this puzzle. I'd hate to tell VVV to take this blade to them, only to have it confiscated in transit. That benefits no one, not even the remaining live dugongs.

My 0.0002 cents,

F
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Old 1st July 2011, 07:00 AM   #13
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Interesting info. I work a lot with natural materials (antler / bone). There are numerous difefrences among species. If you look at the range of antlers: they vary from very porous (european deer) to completely dense (elk / axis / reindeer / ...). Regarding the sea cow: I have a big chunk at home / will take some pictures. Stellar sea cow is allready extincted / lots of their bones are found in norhern regions and can be used without problem.

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Old 1st July 2011, 08:07 AM   #14
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Obviously this thread caught some interest so I will contact him on Sunday and ask him to join this discussion so you get his arguments directly from him.

I don't know any marin biologist myself but if there is one on the list, or a member knows one good enough, maybe you can ask him for a comment too?

Unfortunately it isn't that easy to walk around with a large head hunter sword in central Stockholm and draw the blade among 100's of people inside the natural history museum during the tourist season without getting trouble with the police.

On the use of human bones I have never seen or heard about it being used for mandau hilts, unlike skulls placed under the main pillars of the long houses. Probably because of that it doesn't match the Dayak belief system.

On transit hassles fortunately there are no customs between EU-countries (Sweden - UK). Otherwise it might be a problem even if I have never experienced it myself as I only buy blades from before the ban.

Michael
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Old 1st July 2011, 08:19 AM   #15
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Regarding the use of human bone for a mandau handle:

http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showt...ighlight=mandau
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Old 1st July 2011, 08:34 AM   #16
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Yes, I remember that old thread and I have handled the mandau IRL.
But as far as I remember later on it was discovered that it wasn't human bone ...

Michael
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Old 1st July 2011, 01:48 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VVV

I don't know any marin biologist myself but if there is one on the list, or a member knows one good enough, maybe you can ask him for a comment too?

Unfortunately it isn't that easy to walk around with a large head hunter sword in central Stockholm and draw the blade among 100's of people inside the natural history museum during the tourist season without getting trouble with the police.


Hi Michael,

A couple of points.

One is that you neither need nor want a marine biologist, since they typically work with fish (or worms, or whatever). You want an vertebrate anatomist or a paleontologist--a bone dude (or dudette). They typically work at museums, veterinary schools, and universities. Look for places with lots of nicely mounted skeletons.

With regards to carrying a blade around, I've used poster tubes to carry swords (jian), but all you need is a bag that disguises the sword's shape and makes you look harmless. Perhaps a guitar case?

Cheers,

F
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Old 1st July 2011, 02:00 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VVV
Yes, I remember that old thread and I have handled the mandau IRL.
But as far as I remember later on it was discovered that it wasn't human bone ...

Michael


Michael,

What was it discovered to be? I ask as many of your hilts show a patina found on very old and well handled human bones but then the practice of head hunting was pretty quick and I am sure they didn't hang around to take other limbs...of maybe they did now and then?

Gav
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Old 1st July 2011, 06:16 PM   #19
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Bone density might be the answer here. Dugong are not deep diving sea mammals so thier bones are more dense than whales. As they live in water they have less dense bones for buoyancy. Land mammals have heavier dense bones certainly bones big enough for sword handles will be hard and dense. So if the bone is light and spongiform it may well be Dugong. Some interesting stuff on bone to follow when an item finishes on ebay.
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Old 1st July 2011, 06:48 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by freebooter
Michael,

What was it discovered to be? I ask as many of your hilts show a patina found on very old and well handled human bones but then the practice of head hunting was pretty quick and I am sure they didn't hang around to take other limbs...of maybe they did now and then?

Gav


Gav, it was over 6 years ago I was offered it (May 2005 according to my files). Probably I wanted to have proof that it was human bone and didn't get it?
I just remember that we agreed on that it wasn't human bone for sure after all and I bought some other mandaus instead.

Michael
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Old 1st July 2011, 08:13 PM   #21
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Ben, aka Dajak who posted the thread above that Gustav linked to, just mailed me.
He wrote that he later had showed the mandau to a surgeon who told him that it was human bone and might be from an arm. So maybe there is at least one mandau with a hilt made of human bone after all out there...

Michael
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Old 1st July 2011, 09:21 PM   #22
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IT IS LIKEY THERE ARE NO CITES EMPLOYEES IN THE WORLD WHO COULD IDENTIFY A MANDAU HANDLE MADE OF SEA COW BONE AND LIKELY NONE WHO COULD EVEN IDENTIFY A COMPLETE SKULL. I WOULD THINK A LARGE RIB BONE WHERE IT CONNECTS TO THE SPINE WOULD BE OF THE RIGHT SHAPE AND SIZE FOR A MANDAU HANDLE.
I COULD ID A COMPLETE SKULL BUT NOT A PIECE OF CARVED BONE, I CAN ALSO ID HUMAN BONE IF THERE IS ENOUGH OF ITS ORIGINAL SHAPE REMAINING BUT A SMALL CARVED FRAGMENT ONLY CAN BE DONE IN A LAB EQUIPPED TO DO SO. SO AS LONG AS SEA COW OR ANY OTHER FORBIDDEN ITEM IS NOT MENTIONED IT SHOUILD PASS WITH NO PROBLEMS. I WOULD BE MORE CONCERNED IN SOME COUNTRIES WITH THEFT BY POSTAL EMPLOYEES OR CUSTONS AGENTS.
THE PROBLEM IS ALL PEOPLE WORKING IN THESE TYPE JOBS ARE TRAINED TO LOOK AT ALL OF THE GENERAL POPULATION AS A GUILTY SUBSPECIES AND THE ENEMY. UNFORTUNATELY SOME PEOPLE DO FIT THIS TYPE BUT MOST DO NOT.
THIS USED NOT TO BE THE CASE AS THEY WERE JUST TRAINED TO UPHOLD THE LAWS AND SERVE THE PEOPLE BY UPHOLDING THOSE LAWS. IF A PERSON STOPPED ALONGSIDE THE ROAD AND TOOK SOME FEATHERS FROM A DEAD BIRD THAT HAPPENED TO BE AN EAGLE IN THE OLD DAYS IF A WARDEN SAW THIS HE WOULD CONFISCATE THE BIRD WARN THE PERSON ASSUMING HE WAS NOT A POACHER BUT IGNORANT OF THE LAW AND THAT WOULD LIKELY BE THE END OF IT. TODAY THE PERSON WOULD BE PROSECUTED AND FINED TO THE FULL EXTENT OF THE LAW AND WOULD LIKELY SPEND MORE TIME IN PRISON THAN A MURDER. NOT BECAUSE THEY REALLY BELIEVED HE WAS A PROFESSIONAL EAGLE POACHER OR TO SERVE THE LAW JUSTLY BUT TO MAKE AN EXTREME EXAMPLE AND SET A PRECIDENT FOR FUTURE CASES.
IN THEIR DEFENSE MOST AGENTS ARE NOT LIKE THIS EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE OFTEN EDUCATED TO BE. BUT THERE ARE AGENTS OUT THERE WHO ARE BAD APPLES AND LIKE TO USE THEIR POWER TO CAUSE PEOPLE GREIF AND IF YOU RUN AFOUL OF ONE YOU WILL BE CONSIDERED GUILTY AND BAD NO MATTER WHAT YOU SAY OR DO SO EXPECT NO MERCY.
I WORKED WITH THE CURATORS OF A NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM IN HOUSTON TEXAS AND FOUND ALL OF THEM TO BE GOOD PEOPLE AND FAIR AND REASONABLE BUT THAT IS NOT ALWAYS THE CASE.
I SENT AN ARTEFACT TO A LOCAL EXPERT AT A LOCAL COLLEGE FOR HIM TO GIVE AN OPINION ON. THE FELLOW I SENT IT WITH CAME BACK AND SAID IT WAS AN ATAL ATAL HANDLE OVER 10 THOUSAND YEARS OLD AND WAS MADE OF HUMAN BONE SO THE PROFESSOR HAD CONFISCATED IT AS PEOPLE WERE NOT ALLOWED TO HAVE HUMAN REMAINS.
IF ASKED I WOULD HAVE GLADELY DONATED IT TO THE UNIVERSITY COLLECTION BUT WHEN TREATED LIKE A LOOTER ALTHOUGH IT WAS A SURFACE FIND IN A RIVER AND WOULD HAVE BEEN DESTROYED SOON HAD I NOT FOUND IT. SO GET TO KNOW PEOPLE BEFORE YOU TRUST THEM BECAUSE CREDENTIALS AND DIPLOMAS DO NOT NECESSARLY INDICATE A GOOD MAN.
SUCH IS LIFE YA TAKES YOUR CHANCES.

( SKULLS UNLIMITED ) IN OKLAHOMA CITY HAS EXAMPLES OF SEA COW AND MANATEE AND OTHER SKELETIONS (ALL LEGAL} THEY ARE A GOOD REFRENCE
, THEY USE THEM TO MAKE GOOD REPLICAS TO SELL. THE OWNER WOULD KNOW HOW TO ID THE BONES IN THE SKELETON BUT I DON'T KNOW IF HE COULD TELL MUCH LOOKING AT A MANDAU HANDLE.? I WILL HAVE A TALK WITH HIM WHEN I GO OVER FOR A VISIT NEXT TIME. YOU CAN GOOGLE SKULLS UNLIMITED FOR A LOOK AT HIS CATALOG ON LINE IF INTERESTED.

A SPECIALIST IN SEA COW WOULD BE ONE STUDYING THE CLASS SIRENIA TO WHICH IT BELONGS ALONG WITH THE MANATEE. THE STUDY OF WHALES (CETACIANS) MAY OVERLAP SO SPECIALISTS SHOULD BE OUT THERE ESPECIALLY DUE TO THE INTREST IN THE AMERICAN MANATEE.

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Old 1st July 2011, 11:54 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fearn
A couple of points.

One is that you neither need nor want a marine biologist, since they typically work with fish (or worms, or whatever). You want an vertebrate anatomist or a paleontologist--a bone dude (or dudette). They typically work at museums, veterinary schools, and universities. Look for places with lots of nicely mounted skeletons.

Since you found the need to comment on my suggestion i must point out that a paleontologist is in no way a "bone dude", but one who studies paleontology, the study of all prehistoric life forms, both plant and animal and their fossilized remains.
A marine biologist is involved in the study of the origins, behavior, diseases, genetics, and life processes of animals and wildlife of the marine environment. It's a big ocean and i am sure that marine biologists specialize in certain sub-categories of their field, one of which would certainly include the study of marine mammals, Sea Cow included.
A vertebrate anatomist might be helpful, but frankly i am having a hard time finding any specific information on exactly what they do...
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Old 2nd July 2011, 01:43 AM   #24
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My sister-in-law is a prof emeritus in vertebrate anatomy, but she reckons she has very little knowledge of anything at all to do with marine mammals. Suggests that it could be a special field --- whatever that might mean.
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Old 2nd July 2011, 04:30 AM   #25
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Well, I can call someone a paleozoologist, but the way it tends to work, if you're a paleontologist, you typically study vertebrates. Otherwise, you're a paleobotanist, an invertebrate paleontologist, a paleoecologist, a paleoclimatologist, or whatever.

Go read the tetrapod zoology blog if you want to get an idea of what they do and what they're interested in.

That said the question is, is the bone from a dugong. There are a couple of ways to figure that out:
--destructively, with DNA sampling (bore into the bone, away from the surface treatment)
--non-destructively, by figuring out what bone it is (most likely rib or large vertebra) and matching it to the corresponding piece of a skeleton.

That's why you want a comparative anatomist. Paleontologists use this skill all the time, because typically, they get bits of bones from unknown organisms, and have to figure out not only what bone they have, but what the organism was and what it looked like. That's effectively the puzzle you have here.

So yes, you want a bone dude(or dudette). Preferably, you want an institution that has a dugong skeleton to hand, so you can figure out which bone it was by lining it up against the unaltered version. If it's not a dugong, the choices get interesting. Whale? Dolphin? Rhinoceros? Horse? Bovine? Human? There aren't a huge number of large-boned animals in that part of the world, so you should be able to work it out.

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Old 2nd July 2011, 08:42 AM   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fearn
If it's not a dugong, the choices get interesting. Whale? Dolphin? Rhinoceros? Horse? Bovine? Human? There aren't a huge number of large-boned animals in that part of the world, so you should be able to work it out.

F


It might even be stag from the sambar deer
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Old 2nd July 2011, 03:29 PM   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fearn
--non-destructively, by figuring out what bone it is (most likely rib or large vertebra) and matching it to the corresponding piece of a skeleton.

That's why you want a comparative anatomist. Paleontologists use this skill all the time, because typically, they get bits of bones from unknown organisms, and have to figure out not only what bone they have, but what the organism was and what it looked like. That's effectively the puzzle you have here.

Given that the hilt is firstly just a small part of the bone (if indeed it is bone and not antler) and then it is extensively carved i am afraid i cannot see any possibility that it could be matched to any existing whole bone for verification. Even when paleontologist work for fairly intact bones they have been know to make mistakes. I don't think there would be enough for them to work from here.
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Old 2nd July 2011, 03:56 PM   #28
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Actually, David, you'd be surprised.

For one thing, you have both the spongy inner core (trabecular bone) and the outer dense cortical bone.

So far as I can tell, it's not carved out of a cylinder, so it's not from the middle of a long limb bone. You can see that because the hilt is curved, but the trabecular bone is only on one corner. Assuming this is a correct observation, the bone came from a bone with a more complex shape, such as the head of a thigh or the vertebra of a very large animal.

The nice thing about bones with complex shapes is that they tend to be distinctive. This means they can be identified.

Without measurements, I can't tell whether this hilt could have been made from a human thigh (my guess is not). However, if you have a bunch of bones to compare it to, you can ask whether the hilt would fit within a particular bone. By process of elimination, you can get an ID.

Additionally, there may be clues in the texture of the bone that will allow it to be identified.

Were I the person with a mystery bone hilt, I'd approach a museum and say that I'm trying to determine the identity of the bone so that I can properly document it for CITES, or some such.

It's always possible that it can't be identified. However, if there's a later question about the identity of the bone (say from customs), you can whip out a letter that says that you took it to a museum, and Dr. Bone-Genius couldn't figure out what it was, except that there's no evidence it's from a CITES covered species, and it's too old to be covered anyway.

Either way, you get something from the exercise.

Best,

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Old 2nd July 2011, 08:23 PM   #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fearn
Were I the person with a mystery bone hilt, I'd approach a museum and say that I'm trying to determine the identity of the bone so that I can properly document it for CITES, or some such.

That's not a bad approach. If i were in NYC i'd probably go to the Museum of natural history where they are likely to have both manatee skeletons AND dayak swords.
Michael, do you have a good Natural History museum nearby?
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Old 2nd July 2011, 09:51 PM   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David
snip...
Michael, do you have a good Natural History museum nearby?


Actually only a 5 minutes walk from the University. But no way I will walk around with an old head hunting sword, first among 1000's of museum visitors and then just as many at the campus. It's enough with those ninja wannabees that you read about in the newspapers now and then running around with practice iai-to and scaring people.
So I wait for the blade smith working with this material to get back to me, hopefully tomorrow or early next week, so you can read his explanation.
I had around 80+ dayak parang, all of them with patination of different kind, in the room for us to discuss. After he showed me the first one it took me about a minute to spot the second one. None of the other hilts were even close in looks.

Michael
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