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Old 26th April 2009, 05:13 PM   #1
Jake
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Default Curious spear-head

Gentlemen!Having but very recently joined in the forum,i'll go out on a limb here in the hopes that this object may in any way interest anyone.I apologize beforehand if the object lacks much of an interest in the context of your researches and collecting.Also for it's vague,at best,relationship to the "european"part of the forum discussion.
But,here goes...It was found buried in the sand on the beach on Bering strait,south of Nome,Alaska.Then re-handled,and used a few times here,further inland,for taking bear (out of the den,mostly).That was 50 years or so previous.
The spear is forgewelded out of fairly slaggy steel,the visible layer structure seems to be about .5mm thick.The socket is forgewelded very competently,and decorated with the alternating hot-inlay of copper and brass(the inlaying grooves are not dove-tailed).It's possible that the entire socket was coppered,much like many European,German,especially,tools.Since i've taken these(poor quality)photos,the new owner has dilligently "cleaned" it,obliterating the layering exposed by corrosion,and the surface remnants of the non-ferrous metals.The lengh O/A is about a foot.
My feeble inquiry as to it's possible origin i should,probably,keep to myself,so as not to muddle any possible discussion(I've no qualifications for an academic research into this,or much else,at that But,as a native Russian speaker,did briefly cast my gaze in that direction(the Russian Far East),albeit without much that is conclusive in any way).
Respectfully,Jake.
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Old 26th April 2009, 05:17 PM   #2
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Here are the photos themselves,and thanks,Jake.
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Old 26th April 2009, 07:23 PM   #3
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Hi Jake,
First of all, welcome to the Forum!!! Its great to have someone here from our far northern regions, and I'm glad you have joined us here. Our scope of discussion is intended to feature virtually all forms of arms and armour, and including items which often seem to fall in the gray areas. I believe our basic philosophy is one never knows where clues might be found.
Also, one does not need academic qualification to participate here, we are all here to learn together, so welcome aboard!!

It is very good news to have someone who speaks Russian also, as we often have markings, and references where we need help.

I would say this appears to be a socketed lance head of 19th century, but pending further research, cannot qualify that in more detail. Naturally, the long reach of trade routes extended heavily into your regions from far to the west, and European metalwork items were in great demand.

The engraving in what appears to be crescents is very interesting.
Please do share your thoughts, it tends to enhance discussion rather than inhibit it.

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 26th April 2009, 07:40 PM   #4
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Hi Jake,

Welcome!

I agree with Jim on the age, and I'd add that we can't rule out Chinese manufacture either. It is, unfortunately, a fairly generic shape, and they're selling them even now for the martial arts community.

The interesting thing to me are the decorations. I'll admit I haven't seen them before, but if they are original to the piece, they're probably our best clue for figuring out who made it.

Best,

F
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Old 26th April 2009, 08:31 PM   #5
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Hi Jake,

I cannot add anything to your spear head but consent with what Jim and Fearn stated - and Welcome from my part as well, of course!

Best,
Michael
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Old 26th April 2009, 08:49 PM   #6
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Thank you,Sir,for the warm welcome,as well as a chance to share here.
I'll have to preface anything that i may say by bringing up the fact that the entire subject of "Fe in the Arctic and the Sub-Arctic"is terra incognita,or very nearly so,as far as the academic research goes.But if that wasn't enough,these will be the thoughts of an isolated,uninformed hick,with no access to data,and very poor research skills,electronic or otherwise.
Since the 1800's at least,the traders and the whalers could have brought an object from basically anywhere.Even before,the Dutch in Indonesia,the Portugese in Japan,and on,and on,the Japan Current curls to go back south around here,so that the possibilities are endless.
The only telling info can come from the technology of the manufacture(or some expensive metallography).
In my limited view,such a construction-homogenising steel by piling and welding,is (1)not commonly practiced in Indonesia or South-East Asia(at least for the inexpensive trade goods),(2)ditto,really,anywhere else where the bulk of the trade goods may've originated.It's simply too laborious.
I started looking to the native manufacturing processes across the Strait,in the parts of Siberia,for that trade route functioned,of course,always.
One of the possible sources is what is now called Saha republic,Yakutia of the Szarist and the soviet Russia.Skilled in ironwork since pre-Russian invasion of 1600's(arguably),their work has appeared here regularly.In the early 1700's travel notes of Lt.Zagoskin(the first european to ascend the Yukon),describing the gathering of the tribes at the mouth of the Nowitna R.(roughly 300 miles from the coast)he says:"...i have instantly recognised some knives of Yakut craftsmanship".But,that part of the world's metalworking is quite a (yet)unopened can of worms).
Closer to home,directly across the Strait,on the Kamchatka peninsula,there is also evidence of some similar forge practices.In the (now abandoned)village of Paren,on the Paren river,at least in the off season the hunters would forge tools and weapons for trade.Supplied with bar iron by the Szarist traders,and ditto by the Soviets(actually forging as a collective farm in the 1940's-'50's.What those folks were up to earlier remains a mystery.
In general,an unfortunate assumption often is made by the scientific community as to the manipulation of Fe in the circumpolar north.But a few that i've chanced to talk to,were even unaware of the cold-forging of the two meteorites,by the Inuit of Greenland(both m.confiscated by Adm.Peary,and are now in storage at the N.Y.MET).
So,here i've typed for a while,and all seems toward no discernable point...Sorry about the lack of focus,i'd be very interested in hearing from those more informed.Best regards,Jake
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Old 26th April 2009, 08:52 PM   #7
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Thank you also,gentlemen,for your replies,it took me a while to write this,and they were added meanwhile.Yes,it's not much but a big pile of loose ends...!
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Old 26th April 2009, 09:11 PM   #8
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I must also add that as a blacksmith,and one addicted to reading papers on anthropology/exploration/et c. to boot,i often notice inaccuracies in the accounts,where they deal with matters metallurgical.
So that when the inevitable FINAL WORD comes down,which,invariably,is"These people were primitive(?),and were not familiar with open reduction of Fe/cementation/heat-treatment,and the like...",my doubt is never resolved.Even the immortal Steller,who was so scrupulous about the minutia of all else...
At the request of an anthropologist friend i have just leaved through 1992 doctoral dissertation by S.Ann Dunham,"The Peasant Blacksmithing in Indonesia".I must say that there are a few fairly gross inaccuracies,as exellent a paper(i'm sure)it is as far as cultural anthropology and the economics.
I understand that not everyone can obsess with forging,the way some of us are consumed,but...just the barest modicum of informedness,and so much can become clearer!
Please excuse my lament,all the best,Jake.
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Old 26th April 2009, 10:42 PM   #9
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Hi Jake,

I agree about the lack of data on Arctic metallurgy. I'd read about the knives created from the Old Woman meteorite for years. Finding a picture of one of those knives has so far proved very difficult.

As for the forging technique, I'd put in several possibly contradictory thoughts.

One is that the spearhead may not have been a trade good at all, but it might instead have been scavenged from a wreck.

A second thought is that, while such forging is considered too tedious now, I'm not sure it would have been a century or more ago, when the spear was first forged.

A third thought is that I'm not convinced the spearhead was locally forged, because forming a socket is a little tricky, and I don't know of anyone north of Japan who was doing that type of forging on spearheads (this is probably my ignorance speaking). If the spearhead had a tang, I could easily believe it was of local manufacture.

This gets back to the question of the decorations. They're probably our best clue at the moment.

Best,

F
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Old 27th April 2009, 06:22 AM   #10
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Curious is well placed here on this 'spear head', and I've been busy with searching in quite a few directions to add to the excellent observations already noted by Fearn.

As Jake has already noted, the Yakuts and natives in Siberia had metal working skills pre Russian invasion 16th c.

While this appears to be a lance head, and apparantly emplaced as a spear head, the whaling activity of natives in these regions is I think important to consider. I am not suggesting that this is a harpoon, but found some interesting notes concerning the use of iron in whaling by Native groups.
In "Ethnological Results of the Point Barrow Expedition" John Murdoch, Point Barrow Expedition (1892), on p.240 the superstitions of native whaling mention that of late, many of the natives had obtained ordinary 'whale irons' from the ships, and that in 1882, a very bad season had been considered due to this use of these foreign 'irons'. The tribal elders determined that this effect might be countered by the initial strike of the whale being with one of the ancient stone type harpoons used by the forefathers. Subsequent hits could use other means.

It is further noted that (1882) they found no signs of iron whale lances of native manufacture as made in Greenland and elsewhere.

The primary tribe associated with this whaling would be the Inupiat Eskimos who apparantly occupy extremely wide regions that include Greenland, Siberia, Canada and Alaska.

Murdoch (op.cit. p.242) also describes a form of lance which has a head somewhat similar to the one posted here, however the example he describes has a tang, although beveled edges on both faces are noted. The heads are not always iron, but of copper and brass as well.
These lances are known as 'deer lances' and are actually a spear which is called ka'pun' (= stabbing) in Point Barrow dialect, used by Eskimos in kaiak to hunt swimming deer.
The example of Jakes seems loosely similar in the shape of the head, but of course is socketed rather than tanged.

The term used is close to the weapon used in Greenland (kaput) used for long bladed spear used in dispatching harpooned seals.
There is a lance apparantly also used as a 'bear lance', of which we can assume the basic style is similiar.

It would seem that the wide range of habitat for the Inupiat which includes not only Greenland, Canada and Alaska, from regions near Nome, far to the north at Point Barrow but Siberia as well...perhaps the well known metal work of the Yakut, and others might have been widely diffused.
Siberian tribes such as Chuckchee and Koryak used lances, and to the west the lance was distinctly among Inuit weapons.

Another reference noted that iron and steel metalwork was used by Tlingit and Haida in making weapons during conflicts with Russia.

While these notes are of course inconclusive, they are meant simply to add to material being considered concerning this lance/spear head.

The markings or motif do seem to be likely to have considerable bearing for further research on this.

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 27th April 2009, 04:41 PM   #11
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Thank you,Fearn,and Mr.McDougall,for such clear and well-thought out information.This is exactly what makes this forum great.I've gotten so much from what you gentlemen have mentioned...But,hopefully,other will also find it somewhat usefull,the history,especially that of the spread of metalworking,being all so interconnected...A jig-saw puzzle,where each piece,unexpectedly,may lead to the placement of others!
For my part,i've nothing to contribute that can be in any way substantiated(In general,i'll try not to ever use a source that i cannot provide a reference for.Even if,due to my poor computer skills,at the time i do not).
As a contribution,for whatever good that it may do,i'll give a quick synopsis of an article that i was referred to.The author,L.B.Arhangelskiy,is an outstanding blacksmith:A maker of PW steel as well as the crucible kind("bulat"!),a real luminary,and a novator in his field.However,none of the information below is history-it is all myth,hearsay,and cannot,in any way,be applied to the science of inquiry,Strictly lore.
The author,LBA,was asked to forge a blade for an "art-knife" by one of the more noted members of the The Guild of Master Armourers,a Mr.Sushko,who lives and works in Kamchatka.The local color and lore have a large place in Mr.Sushko's work,and the project involved a knife along the lines of the mythical Paren knives,which led LBA to look into all the related stories,and that's how this short article came to be written.Here's a link to the original:http://www.arhangelskie.com/stat_9.html ,at the very bottom is a photo of the knife that the two cooperated on.
Here's the gist of the story:The myths abound of the superlative qualities of the "needle steel".The variations include anything from bunches of thin wire(in the 19th cent.Uzbekistan),to the similar construction in the Russian North West,Norse-related,to the mythical welding up of a load of Japanese steel needles by the Koryak,specifically in the village of Paren,Kamchatka peninsula.The myth variously involves composit of all sorts of "found"steel,ship plate scavanged from wrecks,and even a container weld,a pipe filled with assorted(by C content)chunks.
LBA poses a possibility that this sort of complex metalworking could have dispersed to the Koryaks from Yakutia(Saha Republic,now).
Saha people seem to have migrated north from Central Asia(?)centuries ago,bringing with them a culture of advanced metallurgy,among other aspects.Here's an exerpt from their epic "Olonho",as quoted by LBA(my inept translation),mentioning a legendary,17th cent.sword:
"A sword he then chose-both straight and long,
The best among all swords!
The blade of the sword was with magic imbued,
Of the 88 thunder clouds,rushing madly.
The beaks of the 99 iron-beaked ibises they have brocken short,
To forge into a single blade.
Blacksmiths,the weavers of spells,have welded the blade
Using the blood of a lion,
Tempered it in the gall of toothed fishes.
44 spells were contained therein,in that blade,
39 sorcerer's guiles..."

So,the story continues,that the Koryaks of Kamchatka have ended up with the forging technology,to be used afterwards in many ways.Apparently there are some records(that i have not seen,or have any access to),of the Paren smiths producing implements for the collective farms of the region.Among the tools are 100's of "deer spears",as Mr.McDougall indicates.
Once again,i regret not to be able to add in any material,substantiated way,and remain most grateful for the concise,careful information that you,gentlemen,unearth.
Warmest regards,Jake.
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Old 27th April 2009, 05:40 PM   #12
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The unacceptabilty of iron as the material for the harvesting of game,mentioned in Mr.McDougall's post above,strikes me as germaine to the entire question of the scarcity of iron in the circumpolar North.
There's a very significant spiritual element that was attached to iron and it's uses,well,just about everywhere.Most Siberian artifacts that i have seen(the photos of) were articles belonging to the shaman,who also invariably doubled as a blacksmith.

In Russian,there's a curious etymology of the word for the bear spear specifically:"rogatina",meaning a forked part of a tree-trunk.Even though for centuries the bear spears were forged iron(and not forked),typical is the one below(the photo seems to have lost it's rightful owner in it's kicking about the internet,and often is used as a generic type of a Russian bear-spear).

Also,the Russian Far East is an unexplored trove of various metallic artifacts.The other photo was posted by a friend on one of the forums,it is a table of a junk vendor in the Habarovsk region.The objects are pilfered from the burial mounds in the area by the economically strapped(to put it mildly)population.In the forground is a small meteorite,also unlawful to posess under the RF laws.
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Old 27th April 2009, 10:21 PM   #13
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Thanks very much Jake, and I'm really glad you posted this. I have always thought the culture and weaponry of these northern regions is completely fascinating, and its good to have someone as well versed in the subject of metallurgy and blacksmithing as you are with us. There are a number of members out there very active in this art, and I hope they will enter in on the thread.

I appreciate the links and mention of the articles , and very much appreciate the detail you include in the text of your posts. You have rekindled my interest in the study of these cultures, and another great title that carries some great material on this:
"Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Siberia and Alaska"
William W. Fitzhugh , 1988, Smithsonian

I think the superstitions with iron and that blacksmithing was often done by shaman is an extremely intriguing practice often the case in many cultures.
In the Sahara, the Tuareg blacksmiths are virtually a separate cultural group, and in many tribal cultures in Africa as well as other spheres, the blacksmith remains an almost supernatural entity. Even in early times in Europe, the blacksmith was acknowledged guardedly and thought to be in league with dark forces as they often worked mysteriously and in darkness to guage the temperature of the heated metal.

In prehistoric times, much of the artwork, symbolism and probably much of that found on tools and weapons was closely related to shamanic ritual.
Books such as "The Quest for the Shaman" and "The Shamans Coat" deal a lot with these individuals in these cultures, absolutely fascinating!

All the best,
Jim
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Old 28th April 2009, 06:56 AM   #14
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Hi Jake,

The piece does look like the head of a rogatina, minus the toggle. I'm guessing that the toggle is like the cross-bar on a boar spear, meant to keep the bear from charging up the spear staff? I'd also guess that's why the spear is was forked in the old days.

Just as a cross-reference, the Chinese used a tiger fork in hunting tigers, so I don't think it's unusual to use a large, sharp forked anything to hunt a large predator.

As an aside, back in the 80s, an arctic explorer decided to carry a 12' pike rather than a gun. They were working in a polar bear area, and he thought it was more fair to carry a spear. He never had to use it, which was just as well, because he assumed he'd die if he had to face off against a bear. Considering he didn't have a cross-piece on the spear, he was probably right.

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Old 28th April 2009, 08:14 AM   #15
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Mr.McDougall,i cannot agree more-the connection between the metalworking(but iron and steel forging especially)and spirituality is,arguably,THE most facsinating aspect.Very involved and complex,in probably all cultures everywhere.And little wonder.Like you mention,the very circumstances of ironwork-the darkness necessary to judge the temperature,the sulfurous fumes(fire and brimstone),the fire,and the sheer intensity of the process.And the fruit,most often-the very subject of study of this forum-the most powerful catalyst of human interaction,to this day-a weapon...
Even among the fellow fire-trades(ceramics,glass-blowing),steel is very separate:No other material undergoes the phase changes that are so profound.Much of what the science explains to us nowadays was not lost on the ancients.The fact that virtually all of the Mesopotamian languages referred to iron as "heavenly" or "stellar" metal refers not only,even,to their access to it mostly through the meteoritic material,or so it seems.The first of the elements,this, number 26,that cannot simply be compressed out of H,but must be inside an imploding star to become so dense...
Thanks so much for all the book references,i'll truly become a nuisance to our librarian now,with all these ILL requests.
Fearn,you're quite correct,as far as i know,on all counts.Most hunting of large critters with a spear involves a toggle,lugs/wings,or the like.Around here(the forested interior of Alaska),the toggle was lashed on to the shaft with rawhide(it was very interesting to note the similarity with German boar spears,elsewhere on the forum).In some cases,like the den hunt,where the animal is provoked into an attack,the toggle serves as a fulcrum,around which the animal rotates in it's motion,the point of the lance describing an arc in it's chest(hopefully)severing the aorta.The placing distance of the toggle from the point is critical.
Many peoples in Siberia,Chukchi,Koryak,Evenk,many others,used a great number of different styles of spear.Sometimes some carried a very large one called(in Russian,but from some other language,not sure which),"pal'ma".It was used like an all-around camp tool,even for the trail hacking,it was heavy and sharp both.
Unfortunately i lack either the accurate description of one,or any images.However,I just had a chance to forge something of the sort,i'll post a photo although it's not quite done.Living here gives me a chance for an occasional commission such as this,for which i'm grateful.It's 19" overall.
All the best,Jake.
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Old 28th April 2009, 08:47 AM   #16
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Please excuse if this is ranging too far and wide,i thought that it may be pertinent,in a VERY general and far-off way,to why the metallurgy of Siberia is possibly crucially important.These links were generously provided by a man on one of the other forums(Mr.Fogg's),in response to my "insat'ble curiosity".After perusing these,what struck my pea-brain in particular,is that the metallurgy(in practically a complete,ready to use shape),seem to have entered China from the,counter-intuitively,Noth West.So 2400 years ago,roughly,somebody to the N.W.of China was,for example,forging meteoritic iron,and forge-welding it into a cast bronze sword...Pretty advanced,for your run of the mill hunter-gatherer!

Hey Jake,
Don Wagner covers this topic in several short online articles and a couple of books

Early iron in China, Korea, and Japan
http://www.staff.hum.ku.dk/dbwagner...e/KoreanFe.html

and the later paper
The earliest use of iron in China
http://www.staff.hum.ku.dk/dbwagner/EARFE/EARFE.html

a list of Don's publications are online at http://www.staff.hum.ku.dk/dbwagner/


He has published a couple of books that may interesting to this group
Dabieshan: Traditional Chinese iron-production techniques practiced in southern Henan in the twentieth century.

Iron and steel in Ancient China
http://books.google.com/books?id=mxZsguBzwZMC
and here http://www.brill.nl/product_id2981.htm
This book is a study of the production and use of iron and steel in China up to the second century B.C., and simultaneously a methodological study of the reconciliation of archaeological and written sources in Chinese cultural history.
An introductory chapter describes and discusses the available sources and their use, gives a brief outline of early Chinese archaeology and history, and develops certain important themes, especially the interaction of North and South in early China. Further chapters consider the invention of iron in a barbarian culture of southeast China, its spread to the area of Chinese culture, and the development of a large-scale iron industry in the third century B.C. The technology of iron production in early China is considered in two chapters, on the microstructures of wrought and cast iron artifacts.

Don has recently finished a volume on Ferrous Metallurgy for the Josesh Needham Research Institute series SCIENCE AND CIVILIZATION IN CHINA
Details here http://www.nri.org.uk/newvolumes.html

Again,thanks for providing such a place for a discussion,and can only hope that this is not too unfocused.
Best regards,Jake.
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