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I Forge Iron

Peasant knife metal from days of yore


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I'm  wondering as I've been reading up and wondering about a ballock knife (and which version of their 700year history). I don't see much about what metal was used. These were cheaply made wooden handle no frills tools in their origin. Given how much effort steel took, would cheap knives like this just be banged out of wrought iron for the average person? Like crappy mild steel garden tools today 

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Not all ballock daggers were "cheaply made wooden handle no frills tools"; see this example from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) with a fancy carved bone handle:

Ballock Knife, Steel, bone, lead, Western European, possibly Britain

And this nice example from the Wallace Collection, with matching accessories in a silver-mounted scabbard:

eMuseumPlus?service=DynamicAsset&sp=SU5mxm4Yx%2FVbhp94nksEmWhUPPCPARCxmRF3wZoiekBYI9dLioBnZzXySIRTomizoxxT9oo9OlonT%0APnyO6EhNhqJhq4t%2F%2BLzvsfbLBbc2NAKqW677oPUO4mvKJYd547%2Fhu7H1%2FIk32Pc%3D&sp=Simage%2Fjpeg

If you're interested in medieval knives, the book Knives and Scabbards from the Museum of London is a great resource both for images and for metallurgical analysis.

It's also worth noting that even inexpensive knives were generally made by guild members and therefore would have had to conform to minimum standards of quality.

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Thanks. I know there are exquisite examples out there - that's what I'd always pictured so I was surprised that the early ones were a turned handle just peened on with no additions. 

You've now got me wondering about the history of guilds and blister steel processing, so many rabbit holes.... 

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Definitely get a copy of Knives and Scabbards; that will be a really good starting place. I just picked up a copy off eBay for about $13, and I suspect you could probably get one cheaper over there.

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The problem with equating things in museums with every day things is in what gets preserved. A commoner's every day knife wouldn't get the care nor be kept as well as a noble's. A commoner's possessions might be sold by the widow to keep a roof over her head until a new husband could be found or the kids might take them. A noble's possessions might be willed on maybe for generations, a fine knife would certainly not be kept in a wet scabbard on a peg but most likely clean and oiled in a box or drawer with the scabbard. 

I forget what it's called but what is preserved and how has a specific term I don't recall. But the term explains why you don't find many Viking blades or artefacts that aren't in a chief or hero's grave.

Frosty The Lucky.

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My point wasn't that these two blades are typical, Frosty, just that Scalebar's unqualified contention that ballock daggers were cheaply made was unnecessarily broad. It's also worth noting that there's a difference between a museum's display collection and its research collection; while the fancier and flashier stuff tends to live in the former, there's still a lot of material -- much of it plainer and less high-status -- kept for study. That's one nice thing about the Knives and Scabbards book: it's a comprehensive catalog of ALL the blades found in the Museum of London excavations, irrespective of status or condition.

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Frosty: "An artifact of preservation",  And the blades in "Knives and Scabbards" were found in the "dumps"  along the river Thames where they were filling in low areas with peoples discarded trash and so tend NOT to be the "upper class"  items generally displayed in museums!  They even go over a classification based on how the steel edge is applied to the lower carbon body!  (There is another MOL book on "Shoes and Pattens"  that is great for people making replica footwear for those periods.)

Note that a ballock dagger is primarily a fighting knife not an edc for a peasant; think of it as a earlier variant of the fairbairn sykes knife.

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I did say 'in their origin' meaning they have their roots in a very simple design meant to be inexpensively produced (from my shallow read up) , peasant probably wasn't the right word. It just got me thinking about the grades of metal and what a low status person would have had access to. 

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Darn, I've got to find that article, I've misapplied what I read badly. I know what I meant, what's wrong with you guys?

"Artefact of Preservation," is it, I believe. I'll keep quiet until I find my clue, I know I have one around here somewhere but . . . 

Frosty The Lucky.

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I believe "artifact of preservation" refers to aspects of an object that result from how it is preserved rather than being inherent characteristics, such as the shape of a bone that was distorted during the fossilization process. As such, it wouldn't refer to an object (such as a high-status blade) that is more likely to survive than not.

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The fact that it exists in modern times when other items do not do to the preservation conditions of the area.  So the face we have so many notes on birch bark that was buried in waterlogged O2 depleted sediments; etc.  A bit related to "artifact of conservation" where treatment by a museum may have changed it.  (A good example would be the patterns on pattern welded swords of the early medieval period; removal of rust exposes patterns deeper into a twisted billet which originally were NOT visible at the surface giving a false impression of what they would have looked like.  I just read a paper on that on an academic site.)

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We should be sure to distinguish "artifact of preservation/conservation" which is some characteristic of an artifact caused by how it was preserved or conserved with "preservation bias" which is the tendency of some materials to be preserved and others not.  For example, copper based metals tend to last better than iron or, as Thomas mentions, under certain conditions animal fibers will be preserved but not vegetable fibers.  This can skew our understanding of the material culture of a period and place because we see only some of the preserved artifacts but not those which have perished.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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That's the distinction I was looking for. Thanks!

So, items that are better made, have higher status, are in environments more conducive to physical survival -- whether natural (acidic soil) or artificial (museum collections) -- or are more likely to be kept as relics or memorials have a stronger preservation bias than poorly made, low status, etc. 

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Perhaps along with an "artifact of presentation"  it's been noted that most general books on European armour show the same pieces over and over, (King Henry VIII of England's armour for instance) and not many show things like the "munition armours" that were common during their period.

To bring this back to smithing: how many people nowadays have their ideas on historical blacksmithing  based on misrepresentations in popular culture's films, comic books, TV and books?   And how many of the creators of these items base their ideas not on historical information but on other films comic books, TV and books?

I was blown away when during a tour of the smithy in Marksburg castle above Braubach Germany; the guide corrected a person telling their child that that is where they made all the swords and armour for the castle. He told them that: No, they bought their weapons and armour from specialist smiths in Nuremberg; the castle smithy was for repair and replacement of ironwork and tools used in the castle.    So refreshing after so many "rural smiths with a 30 year career making hinges and farming tools making  *extremely* special swords!" depictions in popular culture.

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YES, these aspects are what I was referring to so poorly! Schlieman and Troy are another aspect/cause of historical myth. He was actually a brilliant man but for whatever reasons, he had to inflate his image to the detriment of archeological knowledge.

Excavation and "preservation" was quantity over quality especially when archeologists, paleontologists, etc. were competing for recognition and funding. The "Dinosaur Bone wars" is a prime example. 

Frosty The Lucky.

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We have lost so much information due to earlier methods of preparing finds for display.  At least nowadays there is "leaving a section of a site unexcavated so it can be done in the future when even better techniques are known!"

I read that they have found an ID from one of the Franklin Expedition's graves by using DNA analysis and getting samples from possible descendants!  The underwater videos of the exploration of the wreck are amazing the preservation that extremely cold deep water can do.

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SLAG,   here,

A similar wrongful assumption happened in the case of old  clothing. This was made by folks viewing the surviving artifacts and museum conservators.

They assumed that the generally small size of women's dresses,  and other items,  denoted that women of those eras were smaller.

What really was going on was different

Smaller clothing survived better and longer, because they were less likely to be hand me downs, (again and again). The more common sized garments were worn out, and never made it to museums.

SLAG

 

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Similar with old tools; a mint old tool may be that way because it was useless and so never used till it wore out.  I look for ones that show "love and maintenance" and use!

It was the Industrial Revolution that had a big impact of people's heights in Europe---decreasing them with bad nutrition!

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54 minutes ago, ThomasPowers said:

they have found an ID from one of the Franklin Expedition's graves by using DNA analysis and getting samples from possible descendants!

I was just reading the same story. The member of the expedition was the engineer from the Erebus, and the descendant was his great-great-great-great-great-grandson living in South Africa!

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I saw it on the BBC website---did you see the underwater video showing the preservation of the wreck!  Cans and bottles, the ships wheel, the captain's cabin...hard to restrain oneself from wanting to go prowl through it!

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