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Old 23rd June 2013, 11:22 PM   #1
E Farrell
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Default Dagger ID - unknown date and culture

Hello all!

I am working on conserving this dagger for my anthropology department, and part of what I am doing is attempting to identify the piece. I'm going to throw some photos on here, then put every shred of info I know at the moment at the bottom. Any information anyone has about the culture or date of origin, the designs, other weapons using similar combinations of materials, etc would be greatly appreciated.



(Apologies for the glare; some previous person had the bright idea to apply a varnish to the top half of the blade. It doesn't photograph well.)






As far as information:

Nothing is known regarding the date and culture of origin. This is the most pressing concern to me at the moment.

The blade itself is reasonably poor quality. There are obvious marks left from the forging process, and there are two parallel cracks lengthways on the blade, each about 2cm in length. These are faults in the material; they do not appear to be use damage. The assorted nicks on the edges are in some cases from use, in some cases from corrosion. The blade ends in a simple rat tang.

I cannot identify the decoration on the blade. It is done with a mixture of shaped punches and engraving. I can't find any actual writing; only geometric patterning. It reminds me vaguely of some 19th century Ottoman knives I've seen, but it's not an area I know well enough to really identify. Or it may be something else entirely; I haven't got a clue.

The handle is interesting. The upper portion is simply wood wrapped in leather. Although the leather is loose, the wood substrate is the only portion of the handle which does not move freely around and along the tang. I am reasonably confident that this part is original.

The great big orange lump in the middle is not amber, but is an organic precursor thereof. Probably copal. I can't narrow down a geographic source for it without taking a sample out and spending more money than is available for analysis. I am reasonably confident this portion is original.

The lower section of the handle is composed of several pieces. There are two champlevé enamel pieces which are copper alloy, and have a few traces of gilding left. Most of the are of these two pieces is supported underneath by a spacer, but about 1/3 of the larger one just has fabric wrapped around the tang underneath it. The 'pommel' piece on the end looks like a little gear made from sheet metal, and bares traces of paint. It is riveted directly onto the end of the rat tang.

I am not confident that the lower section of the tang is original. The substrate below the champlevé pieces is uneven and doesn't fit properly, and both pieces will move several millimeters in all three dimensions. The proportions look wrong to me, but I know there are legitimate ethnographic weapons out there with some pretty strange appearances, so I can't rule out this being original.


Additionally, and very important for identification, this piece was taken into the anthro collection in the 1980s on bequest from a private collector. That collector had a tendency to "restore" objects without any regard to original function or appearance, marry different partial objects together, and occasionally create outright fabrications.


My gut instinct is that the champlevé pieces are later additions after an original lower handle was lost, but I don't know. I don't know what culture any of this is likely to come from, I don't know enough about post-medieval weapons anywhere to be able to rule out that this is just a strange, reasonably modern ethnographic blade, and without that knowledge it seems perfectly plausible that this might be an original - if odd - construction.

Any information anyone can give would be greatly appreciated.
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Old 24th June 2013, 01:29 AM   #2
laEspadaAncha
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The blade form and overall proportions look Hausa to me, though variants of the same general form appear across a wide swath of Africa from West Africa to the Sudan, and this could as easily be from the latter as the former - I'll be interested to see what others have to say.

Have to admit though, the (Indian-looking?) enamel pommel is new to me...

Cheers,

Chris
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Old 24th June 2013, 08:35 AM   #3
E Farrell
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Quote:
Originally Posted by laEspadaAncha
The blade form and overall proportions look Hausa to me, though variants of the same general form appear across a wide swath of Africa from West Africa to the Sudan, and this could as easily be from the latter as the former - I'll be interested to see what others have to say.

Have to admit though, the (Indian-looking?) enamel pommel is new to me...

Cheers,

Chris
Cheers; I'll start looking around Africa in more depth. East Africa is pretty much the world's major source for copal, so somewhere in the general vicinity wouldn't be too shocking.

Do you think Manding might be plausible? A brief google through Africa brought me back to http://vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=15571

That's an infinitely nicer example, but similar decoration of the blade and broadly similar handle profile.


One of the areas I have been looking at is central Asia, some of the old Soviet bloc countries. There's a tradition of enamel on dagger and knife handles there that I can't really find elsewhere, but none of it really looks right.


That said, there is a good chance of the enamel being southeast Asian; as you say, it looks like something from the area. The problem then would be how it ended up on the knife. If it is African, it's perfectly possible that the enamel pieces were traded in and used on the knife originally. But the collector who owned this prior to the anthro department drew pretty widely from India, and could easily have added something. My problem there is just how difficult it is to tell a poorly made fake from a poorly made original.
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Old 24th June 2013, 08:54 AM   #4
Martin Lubojacky
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Welcome to the forum.

I would also say the blade is comming from the Sahel region. Enclosed please find Tuareg blade with slightly similar decoration, allegedly made in Agadez. Such big orange beads (imitating amber) like this used to be used for necklaces in Sahel

Regards,

Martin
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Old 24th June 2013, 09:01 AM   #5
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Yes I would agree, the blade and decorative forms are found across the Sahel. I think Martin is spot on with regards to the bead, the enamel cap perhaps speaks of a Egyptian link? It is not a typical style I recognize from the Sudan or western Sahel. But I'm not really expert in these little daggers like some of our other members.
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Old 24th June 2013, 08:12 PM   #6
E Farrell
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Martin Lubojacky
I would also say the blade is comming from the Sahel region. Enclosed please find Tuareg blade with slightly similar decoration, allegedly made in Agadez. Such big orange beads (imitating amber) like this used to be used for necklaces in Sahel

Many thanks; the blade designs on the right-most example in that photo are quite similar. Adding Tuareg knives to the search list has gained me a few more examples.

I have found the beads you mention and they do look very, very similar. Do you know of any other examples where this material is used on a knife? The cultural association and physical evidence on the knife are enough that I believe I can be confident the large faux-amber bead is original, but I am curious if there are other examples known.

Quote:
I think Martin is spot on with regards to the bead, the enamel cap perhaps speaks of a Egyptian link?

Egypt or trade from Egypt is possible for the enamel, but it seems a little odd to me. Egypt does have a long tradition of enamel work, but I can't find any usage on knives in modern Egypt. Excluding one ongoing Ebay sale for a knife that is simultaneously Egyptian, Arabic and Cossack, and I'm inclined to discount that as a source. To me the enamel looks Southeast Asian, but it's so badly damaged it's difficult to tell. And the only places I can find enamel used on knives with any regularity is Russia and the old Soviet-bloc Central Asian states.


To all:

I've found a couple old vikingsword thread with examples I can draw from, as well as those posted in this thread. One post of interest is at http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showpo...82&postcount=9

From the examples here and from searching Tuareg, Hausa, Manding and general Sahel knives I'm pretty confident in the blade. That alone is a massive improvement - I was looking through most of Asia before all of your help - but am still not really sure of the handle.

On the post linked above there is a set of knives (see attached photo, red circle) from further south. The left-most of these three has completely the wrong blade profile for the knife I am working on, but the profile of the handle (at least in a black and white line drawing) looks very similar. It is apparently from the book "Armes traditionnelles d'Afrique. {dagues,poignards,glaives,epees,tranchets et couperets} Approche regionale et classification technique, morphologique et esthetique. Tristan Arbousse Bastide."

Does anyone have a copy they don't mind looking at, or know what that knife is? Is there actually a style with a similar handle profile, or is that just because of the low detail of the drawing that it looks similar?


Also, does anyone have a guess on the date range? My instinct is late 19th century based purely on the level of wear and corrosion on the blade, but that's not exactly a reliable dating method. Failing a guess on this knife in particular, is there a date range typical for Sahel-region blades of this style?


I know I'm asking a lot of questions here but as a final request (for this post at least), does anyone have recommendations for books on North African knives or bladed weapons in general?


Thanks again for the help and the warm welcome!
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Old 25th June 2013, 05:35 AM   #7
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WELCOME TO THE FORUM I THINK THE BLADE AND THE LEATHER COVERED FERRULE ARE ORIGINAL AND THE KNIFE LOOKED VERY SIMULAR TO THE ONE TO THE LEFT SIDE OF THE PICTURE OF 4 KNIVES.
MANY TIMES THINGS THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH KNIVES ARE PIECED TOGETHER TO BECOME A ONE OF A KIND ODDITY, I THINK THIS ITEM PROBABLY FALLS INTO THAT CATAGORY. SOMETIMES THEY ARE PIECED TOGETHER BY THE OWNER AND SOMETIMES THEY ARE PIECED TOGETHER FROM BITS FOUND IN THE SOUKS. THE BEAD WAS ORIGINALLY JEWELRY AND THE ENAMEL BIT LIKELY CAME FROM SOMETHING OTHER THAN A KNIFE PERHAPS A VESSEL OR LAMP FINAL.?
I PERSONALLY FIND THIS SORT OF KNIFE INTERESTING AND THEY NO DOUBT HAVE A STORY TO TELL IF THEY COULD ONLY SPEAK. TO PIN THE ENTIRE CONSTRUCT TOGETHER BY TRIBE OR AREA IS VERY DIFFICULT AS SUCH BEADS CAN EVEN BE FOUND FOR SALE IN THE MIDWEST OF THE USA. I WOULD IDENTIFY IT ONLY FROM THE BLADE AND JUST LOOK ON THE BEAD AND ENAMEL AS BLING ADDED LATER TO MAKE A SALE OR BY THE OWNER SOMEWHERE IN AFRICA. GOOD LUCK ON YOUR PROJECT.
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Old 25th June 2013, 07:33 AM   #8
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I should perhaps clarify why I suggested Egypt, not as an overall source of the dagger, but just of the enamel cap.

To my eyes the entire thing could be a local imitation of a Ottoman style dagger, somewhat like this one: http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/l...jectID=4363052

In a Sudanese context of course the potential for this sort of influence is ripe during the 19th century.

This link for the blade: http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=1139

May prove interesting.
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Old 25th June 2013, 09:03 AM   #9
Martin Lubojacky
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As far as books about African cold weapons are concerned, there are many authors already -e.g. I have books by Manfred Zirngibl - but he is mostly concentrated on Africa south of Sahara. I would say there are some books on north African blades (French authors ? - I would also appreciate if some of colleagues could intrioduce them here). I also like Christopher Spring. His African Armes and Armour is relativelly "thin", but sententious...

The similarity of those "three knives" you identified on the picture from the book is purely accidental. In fact it is going on one short Fang sword and two types of sheath. The profile of the handle is similar only due to high reduction of the drawing.

Concerning the enamel parts in North Africa: As everybody knows, big part of North Africa/south coast of Mediterraneann Sea was under Turkey for centuries. I think one could find interesting parts of various items in old bazaars till now. And Coucasus was under Turkey too...... This is just construction, but the true is, that I found a very nice large kinjal in Tripolis years ago - typical Caucasus item from 19th century. As I was told that time - this was remainder of Turkish garrison in Misurata. The personnel was purely from Caucasus and used to be renewed every few years. And I think items could penetrate south - to Sahara

"....AND THEY NO DOUBT HAVE A STORY TO TELL IF THEY COULD ONLY SPEAK...." - I think Vandoo is 100 % right. This is also what attract me to collect old african weapons....
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Old 25th June 2013, 09:12 PM   #10
E Farrell
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VANDOO
SOMETIMES THEY ARE PIECED TOGETHER BY THE OWNER AND SOMETIMES THEY ARE PIECED TOGETHER FROM BITS FOUND IN THE SOUKS. THE BEAD WAS ORIGINALLY JEWELRY AND THE ENAMEL BIT LIKELY CAME FROM SOMETHING OTHER THAN A KNIFE PERHAPS A VESSEL OR LAMP FINAL.?
I agree that the enamel is probably added by someone at some point; I keep asking questions on that line in the (possibly vain) hope that I can find a way to tell if it was the previous owner or someone in Africa who made the addition.

A lamp finial is actually a very good suggestion for the enamel; size and shape are broadly correct for it. What little I am familiar with in Egypt is earlier, but I know a few people I can ask who are familiar with later Egyptian artefacts. Hopefully the enamel is recognizable by someone.


Iain:
Quote:
I should perhaps clarify why I suggested Egypt, not as an overall source of the dagger, but just of the enamel cap.
Ah; my mistake on that then.

Quote:
In a Sudanese context of course the potential for this sort of influence is ripe during the 19th century. This link for the blade: http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=1139
The link is very interesting. Upper hilt is pretty much the same shape, and the pommel is at least a broadly similar shape. And Sudan as well... really starting to like that hypothesis...



Martin Lubojacky:

Quote:
As far as books about African cold weapons are concerned, there are many authors already -e.g. I have books by Manfred Zirngibl - but he is mostly concentrated on Africa south of Sahara. I would say there are some books on north African blades (French authors ? - I would also appreciate if some of colleagues could intrioduce them here). I also like Christopher Spring. His African Armes and Armour is relativelly "thin", but sententious...
I can access the Tristan Bastide book the page in my last post was from (and its 2008 update "Du couteau au sabre: armes traditionnelles d'Afrique) via the university library; should be able to grab them tomorrow. Nothing available to me by Zirngibl, but, alas, I am unable to read German anyway. I should be able to dig up a copy of 'African Arms and Armour' as well though. Many thanks for the recommendations. If you (or anyone else) think of other interesting sources, I will never say no to extra information.


Quote:
The similarity of those "three knives" you identified on the picture from the book is purely accidental. In fact it is going on one short Fang sword and two types of sheath. The profile of the handle is similar only due to high reduction of the drawing.
Cheers. Thought it might just be the low-res drawing, but I'm ignorant enough of African weapons that I have to ask anyway.



Quote:
"....AND THEY NO DOUBT HAVE A STORY TO TELL IF THEY COULD ONLY SPEAK...." - I think Vandoo is 100 % right. This is also what attract me to collect old african weapons....
Agreed; the stories such objects tell can be beyond fascinating... the trouble is in tracking down what evidence the story leaves behind.
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