Monday, August 7, 2017

"Death by Combat" Page 2. (Needham et al, 2017)

This is page 2 of "Death by Combat" by Needham et al, 2017.
Having now read the paper in its entirety, some interesting questions...

Racton's Dagger.  Fig 17  (Needham et al, 2017, photograph Stuart Needham)

We might carefully assume that the dagger buried with Racton Man (above) was on his person when he died, Racton apparently having lost a dagger fight.  If that were true, it'd be interesting that the victor and his company did not take Racton's dagger having the power to do so, an item that would be very highly coveted for the time.  This potentially tells us about the nature of the encounter.

In his book "Feud in the Icelandic Saga", Jesse Byock (1984) makes a case that certain fundamentals of conflict resolution are woven into the themes of Icelandic (and by extension, IE) sagas.  Every story has woven within it a blood feud, a holmgang or einvigi.

Needham et al seem to view this death in that light, as an einvigi (single combat dual) and they further propose that this was because of a leadership contest.  That may be the case, but it could be as something stupid as a foul remark and a challenge to dual.  Either way, it is reasonable to think that this fight was mano-to-mano.

Milston Hill Dagger of similar riveted style.  From Fig 22 (Needham et al, 2017)

Like most Beakers, Racton Man was buried in a wooden enclosure or container with his head resting on a pillow.  When his body decomposed, his head rolled off the pillow giving its position in the grave.  There was also no perceivable rodent activity, so it would seem the container was fairly well constructed.

In addition to this, it can't be ruled out that he was also beheaded at death.  The attacker very forcefully made a succession of blows, any of which could have caused death.

And finally, to add something concerning high status dagger burials...

"It is intriguing that among these injuries, a high proportion are arm injuries: for example, a forearm parry fracture at Chilbolton, Hampshire; a healed upper arm fracture at Liffs Low (Beaker burial), Derbyshire; healed forearm fractures at Pyecombe, East Sussex, Barnack, Cambridgeshire, and Fordington Farm, Dorset; an extensive wound to the left wrist at Callis Wold 23, East Yorkshire, which the recipient survived; and a possible upper arm injury at Tallington, Lincolnshire. At Court Hill, Somerset, a left humerus chopped right through was interpreted as the probable cause of death, and a burial at Amesbury, Wiltshire, had suffered the same fate, but also lacked its right arm, skull and mandible. Burial 11 at Staxton Beacon, East Yorkshire, had a major weapon injury to the left shoulder.103 Taken together, these begin to look significant, particularly since leg injuries seem to be negligible by comparison. There are also several skull injuries of varied kinds. All but one of the skeletons is sexed and all are males. Thorpe saw such injuries as evidence that recipients were ‘killed in the course of small-scale conflicts, whose bravery was then recognised by a prestigious burial’.104 It may now be possible to venture more on the particular social context of some conflicts."

With all the engraved daggers, what went on at Stonehenge and Mont Bego anyway?
And hat tip to Andrew, see part 1

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Mother Lode

Beakerblog found the mother lode of all flint mothers this week.  Some of the nodules are huge, Danish dagger worthy.  This particular lot lode is weirdly like 90% flint, different colors, different qualities.  Not exaggerating.  There is literally several TONS (tons!) of it is this particular parking lot.

The best place to find flint is actually in the parking lots of offices and businesses that have decorative rock beds.  A lot of time they truck in river stone.  The best way to know for sure you've got flint is to strike it and it'll smell like a cigarette lighter.

Always ask permission to hunt for rocks, very especially on private lands, and probably the same for doctor's offices, banks and small businesses.  My advice for the buy-n-large box stores is, well, that's for another blog.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Death By Combat (Needham et al, 2017)

Racton Man died in a dagger fight, possibly from a knife to the armpit or from a slash to the elbow.  And what a dagger he had, one of a kind, the earliest detected bronze in Britain.

He was a big ole dude for his day.  If not a local king or village chief, some kind of honcho that made a few enemies along the way.  His opponent wielded a razor-sharp, metal knife, probably a rival Beaker.

PA via Daily Mail UK
The authors consider, buried in this Pay-per-no-view, that leadership was contested through combat trials, which brings to mind the locations in which dagger representations occur in abundance, such as  Stone Henge and Mont Bego.  The supplement is free and contains quite a bit of technical data.  Supplement1

"Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft superman" Dailymail

"Revealed:  Racton Man was a Bronze Age Warrior chief"  HistoryExtra

Needham, Kenny, Cole, Montgomery, Jay, Davis, Marshall (2017) The Antiquities Journal, Cambridge [Link]

"A previously unresearched Early Bronze Age dagger-grave found in 1989 at Racton, West Sussex, is profiled here through a range of studies. The dagger, the only grave accompaniment, is of the ‘transitional’ Ferry Fryston type, this example being of bronze rather than copper. Bayesian analysis of relevant radiocarbon dates is used to refine the chronology of the earliest bronze in Britain. While the Ferry Fryston type was current in the earlier half of the twenty-second century bc, the first butt-riveted bronze daggers did not emerge until the second half. The Racton dagger is also distinguished by its elaborate rivet-studded hilt, an insular innovation with few parallels.
The excavated skeleton was that of a senior male, buried according to the appropriate rites of the time. Isotopic profiling shows an animal-protein rich diet that is typical for the period, but also the likelihood that he was brought up in a region of older silicate sedimentary rocks well to the west or north west of Racton. He had suffered injury at or close to the time of death; a slice through the distal end of his left humerus would have been caused by a fine-edged blade, probably a dagger. Death as a result of combat-contested leadership is explored in the light of other injuries documented among Early Bronze Age burials. Codified elite-level combat could help to explain the apparent incongruity between the limited efficacy of early dagger forms and their evident weapon-status."

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Danish Halberds (Horn, 2017)

This is a study specific to Denmark, and it looks at the functional use and maintenance history of halberds. The results of these personal halberd 'histories' reveals that these items were regularly and powerfully used against creatures, not the decorations of strutting roosters. Christian Horn looks at each weapon to reveal its maintenance history and the result is this: for the Cimbrian Peninsula and the Danish Isles, Halberds were used, repeatedly repaired, but very powerfully used by their wielders.
Now there is a viewpoint by Skak-Neilsen 2009, mentioned here, that halberds were basically used for pithingor essentially that or something, and a case could be made that Medieval slaughter techniques generally pithed with poleaxes, at least in the far West. But viewing the Bronze Age weapon within that functional sphere is problematic for a host of reasons, one being the decline of the halberd in relation to the ascendancy of the sword as a 'beyond-arm's-length weapon' is fairly correlated.

You'll notice on this weapon below and the other halberds in this series that repairs aren't just impact damage to the tip.  There are damages of different sorts along the weapon, suggesting a wide range of movements, hooking and defenses.  Clearly, the weapon below was involved in combat.

There's actually a long and varied list of reasons to view the halberd as a human-only weapon, and if pithing is excluded, quite possibly the very first weapon created by humans with the expressed and exclusive purpose of killing, often and efficiently, humans very specifically. Take all other weapons, remove its hunting value, and see what remains.  Basically nothing.

For the moment, I'll stop here and return later to Horn's thorough research on a continental scale. It's very extensive, and very damning. There is another paper penned by him and Kristensen concerning Early Bronze Age warfare forthcoming.

"Combat and ritual — Wear analysis on metal halberds from the Danish Isles and the Cimbrian Peninsula"
Christian Horn.  Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Leibnizstr. 3, 24118 Kiel, Germany


Use wear analysis was carried out on fourteen halberds from the Danish Isles and the Cimbrian Peninsula. Rather than presenting a summary of the results, each analysis will be described in detail to give a sense of the complexity of the use wear present on each halberd. This way a sense of the scale of combat they were involved in can be conveyed. This challenges older ideas that see in halberds only ritual implements or signifiers of status. The analysis of the wear traces indicates their use in both, combat and ritual.

Slovak, Czech Bell Beaker Osteology (Hukelova, 2017)

Does anyone have access to this paper? [here - Edinburgh Research Archive]

Zuzana Hukelova apparently builds on other osteological comparisons of other researchers, and interestingly mentions the disparity, not dimophism, of the Chalcolithic individuals (noted several posts ago by Kitti Kohler).  This appears to be a larger regional study and includes Slovakian Beakers in the analysis the first time that I can see.  Spread the wealth.

"Despite the potential of a biocultural methodology, osteology and archaeology are often approached separately in some parts of Central Europe. This osteoarchaeological thesis presents a rare comparative study of populations occupying modern-day Slovakia, Moravia, and Bohemia from the Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age (EBA). By examining skeletal indicators of health and lifestyle, it aims to contribute to bioarchaeological research within the study region. It also provides new insights into a series of important sites where no osteological evaluation of skeletal remains have previously been performed. Human remains from thirty-four sites in Slovakia, Moravia and Bohemia, 152 adults and 136 subadults, were analysed. Demographic, pathological and metric data were recorded and evaluated, and compared with previously published data for contemporaneous populations in order to create a more comprehensive representation of the populations in the area. The results suggest several differences between the Neolithic and the following periods, mostly as regards health status. Higher dietary and environmental stress was indicated in the Neolithic period, as suggested by lower mortality peak (especially of females and subadults) and about 5cm shorter stature, and generally worse health status of Neolithic population when compared to the Chalcolithic and EBA individuals. The Neolithic is also the only period where females were more numerous than males. Such a trend is quite common in the Neolithic of the study region. This may be a result of increased migration of Neolithic females, as raids for wives are suggested to have been practiced. As indicated by both the osteological and archaeological record, one of the sites examined, Svodín, could have been a site of contemporary elites and their family members. Chalcolithic populations revealed differences in cranial shape, being mesocephalic (medium-headed) or brachycephalic (short-headed), whereas both the Neolithic and the EBA populations were dolichocephalic (long-headed). Differences in male and female cranial features suggest a possible mixing of indigenous and incoming populations. Such results may contribute to the ongoing discussion about the ‘foreignness‘ of Chalcolithic Bell Beaker people in the area. Traumatic lesions suggest that males were more physically active than females in all three periods, including violent encounters. Even though violence was recorded in all three periods, especially in the western part of the region, and the intensity and brutality of the assaults appears to increase in the Chalcolithic and culminating in the EBA. In addition, poorer health status of EBA children was recorded, possibly related to more marked social differentiation in the period. In general, poorer health was implied for the prehistoric populations of today’s Slovakia. The results of this study can serve as the basis for future research and contribute to a more comprehensive image of lifestyle and development of prehistoric populations in the study area."