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Zach Gordon




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PostPosted: Tue 06 Dec, 2011 12:56 pm    Post subject: Bronze Age Leather Shield?         Reply with quote

Hi

In my archeology text book I was just reading a passage that I was wondering if anyone had any insight on. It is from Archeology: Theories, Methods, and Practice by Colin Renfrew and Paul Bahn

"In a replication experiment famous in British archeological circles, John Coles investigated the efficiency of a leather shield from the Bronze Age of Ireland. It was the only one of its kind to have survived, all others of the period being of bronze. It was found that the shield could be hardened by means of hot water and beeswax, although it retained a degree of flexibility. Coles, armed with the leather replica, and a colleague using a copy of a metal shield, then attacked each other with slashing swords and spears of Bronze Age type. The metal shield was cut to ribbons, indicating that those specimens we have were not functional but for prestige or ritual. The leather shield, on the other hand, was barely perforated by the spear, and received only slight cuts on its outer surface from the sword. This experiment reveals once again the importance to ancient people of the organic materials that so rarely come down to us intact."

Z
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Christian G. Cameron




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PostPosted: Tue 06 Dec, 2011 1:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

http://www.bronze-age-swords.com/Clonbrin_shield.htm

You can see the shields used, the background archaeology--everything.

Christian G. Cameron

Qui plus fait, miex vault

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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Tue 06 Dec, 2011 3:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Right, that's the Clonbrin shield. At least one wooden mold for very similar leather shields has also been found in Ireland.

Unfortunately, Coles' test (from c. 1963) had serious flaws, and we are still paying the price. His leather shield was indeed very resistant to weapons, and was more or less accurate in thickness, but the hardening and waxing are speculative. His metal "shield", however, has caused no end of misconceptions, since it was only 0.3mm *copper*--surviving shields are 3 to 6 times thicker than that, and made of high-tin *bronze* which is much harder. So his shield tells us absolutely nothing about how ancient shields or armor protected against weapons.

And several generations of historians have used that test to conclude that *every* surviving piece of bronze armor is "useless for combat" and "ceremonial"...

Much better tests have been done in recent years by Barry Molloy, but unfortunately the Sword Forum threads that described some of them have gone away! Rats... In short, bronze shields work VERY WELL! He gave them more abuse than a real one should expect in battle, and they kept all the weapons out. His leather shields performed excellently, too. More is in his book, "The Cutting Edge", and there's another book on Bronze Age shields by a different author that should be coming out soon. That one will include tests with reproduction shields and weapons by Neil Burridge, so they'll be as accurate as it is possible for modern man to make them, up to this point.

My own humble Bronze Age site has more stuff to see:

http://www.larp.com/hoplite/bronze.html

Khairete,

Matthew
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Dec, 2011 6:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What Matthew said, basically. Big Grin

I've attached some photo's from:
- The display at the National Museum of Ireland
- The Clonbrin leather shield
- The Cloonlara shield mould

It's a great museum for anyone interested in weapons, and in bronze age weapons in particular.



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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Dec, 2011 7:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oh, neat, there it is! The object at lower center, from Cloonlara, is not a mold but a shield itself, made from a single slab of wood. Here's mine:

http://www.larp.com/hoplite/Cloon10.jpg

And here's Steve Peffley's Clonbrin shield, cuz it's purty:

http://www.larp.com/hoplite/Pefshld1.jpg

The wooden mold is from Churchfield--just found it on Googlebooks by google searching "mold leather shield ireland". Aha! Looks like another mold was found at Kilmahamogue, Ireland:

http://www.jstor.org/pss/20566636

I thought I remembered there was more than one. There's another all-wood shield, as well. Let's here it for boggy Ireland!

Matthew
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Gregory J. Liebau




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Dec, 2011 9:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
Oh, neat, there it is! The object at lower center, from Cloonlara, is not a mold but a shield itself, made from a single slab of wood.


Okay. For a moment, I thought to myself "wow, they made these shields out of wood, too!" I had to stare at the screen blankly, then considered what I'd just considered... Yikes. Time to make coffee. Eek!
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Johan Gemvik




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Dec, 2011 10:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I find waxed leather to be weak against cutting edges, especially vs piercing with sharp double edged tips, often weaker than the leather is before waxing. Anyone used to leatherworking, making shoes or sewing in leather in general, knows if you wax the awl it goes through much easier, in the case of waxed leather it's actually pre-lubricated for going through it.
As a comparison, waxed lether has been deemed unfit for making lamellar on this forum for this very reason. But as can be seen from the links posted above, even using wax method these shields seem to be of practical use against attacks, probably because a centergrip sheild stops the weapon a ways off the body anyway. I expct if they were harder to thrust through they'd work even better.

If waxing is just pure guesswork as has been stated, perhaps one should try a different method of hardening alotgether?
How about using Natron soaking and oven drying, then soaking it in hide glue and baking it as I've tested and suggested to get the resutls described for the enigmatic cuir boulli of later ages. That would make it a rather stong hard to cut shield and wood-like in feel but still fairly lightweight. For water protection one could then wax the surface of course, but it wouln't be used to stiffen the shiled as such.

"The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on" -Coleridge
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Dec, 2011 12:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
Oh, neat, there it is! The object at lower center, from Cloonlara, is not a mold but a shield itself, made from a single slab of wood.


Hmm, the museum clearly lists it as a mould... There must be some different opinions on it...

To me, the mould theory made sense: the thing is quite thick, at least several centimeters, and therefore must be quite heavy, unlike the bronze and leather shields. It's also quite crudely finished, which is unusual for bronze age weaponry.

I've attached a side view of the Cloonlara "item".



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Gregory J. Liebau




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Dec, 2011 12:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think the real trick to knowing whether it's a mold or not would be to know what the back side looks like. There would be no need to hollow it out if it was a mold meant to be pressed against from the front. If the umbo is hollowed, it's far more likely to have been meant as a functional shield.

-Gregory
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Kel Rekuta




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Dec, 2011 1:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm pretty sure that press is described in Waterer's "Leather and the Warrior". It likely had a positive that mated to it to produce shields more efficiently. Its not like they had tacks to hold the leather in place as it dried. Wood pegs would have been recognizable in the surface.

Not really my area though, I think the article Christian linked above is the best discussion I've seen on this topic.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Dec, 2011 2:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul Hansen wrote:
Matthew Amt wrote:
Oh, neat, there it is! The object at lower center, from Cloonlara, is not a mold but a shield itself, made from a single slab of wood.


Hmm, the museum clearly lists it as a mould... There must be some different opinions on it...

To me, the mould theory made sense: the thing is quite thick, at least several centimeters, and therefore must be quite heavy, unlike the bronze and leather shields. It's also quite crudely finished, which is unusual for bronze age weaponry.

I've attached a side view of the Cloonlara "item".


Oh, another neat photo! I hadn't seen the tool marks so clearly before. Rats, I made mine too nice! Mine is indeed heavy, but it is apparently ash while the original is alder, a much lighter wood. Plus mine may be too thick, at least a little. So I suspect the original is manageable, as a shield. (But boy, plant this sucker in someone's face and he's going DOWN!)

If they are thinking that this is a "positive" form or half of a press, I suppose that's possible. It does have a hollow boss and a handle,

http://www.larp.com/hoplite/Cloon11.jpg

But I really think the boss is too tall for it to be a mold for leather--that's really a LOT deeper than the boss on the Clonbrin shield, and as I understand it just dishing out the leather that deep was a challenge. The crudeness doesn't bother me, either it was simply a cheap shield (and I've seen a surviving axe handle that still had bark on it!), or perhaps it was intended as a votive from the start, which would explain the weight as well. The other surviving wooden shield is much nicer, and apparently thinner, too.

I haven't seen details on the Churchfield mold, just that one drawing, but I suspect it is flat on the bottom, with the cavity for the boss simply cut into the thickness of the wood--no raised boss on the "front", in other words. And both Neil Burridge and Steve Peffley made their leather shields simply by pounding wet leather into the "female" mold, without a "male" half, and got very realistic results. I think using a 2 part mold would need some SERIOUS force, like a battering ram! One guy with a mallet makes more sense.

Oh, I hardened a leather boss on my Sardinian shield just by pouring hot water over it. Seems to work, though I haven't done any testing. A light coat of wax over that would keep it from getting soggy in the rain without really "lubricating" weapons, I should think. I haven't seen any analysis of the Clonbrin shield that suggested it was waxed at all, but I don't know if they tested for it (probably not!). Don't know if wax would survive in a bog, in any case.

Matthew
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Len Parker





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PostPosted: Thu 08 Dec, 2011 7:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Probably a dumb question, but what are those chains for in the picture posted by Paul Hansen?
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Gregory J. Liebau




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PostPosted: Thu 08 Dec, 2011 7:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Len Parker wrote:
Probably a dumb question, but what are those chains for in the picture posted by Paul Hansen?


Looks like jewelry to me, amigo. Maybe there's another answer, though? That be where my money's at... Cheers!

-Gregory
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Fri 09 Dec, 2011 2:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Len Parker wrote:
Probably a dumb question, but what are those chains for in the picture posted by Paul Hansen?


The caption says:
"Chain-link collar
Roscommon, Co. Roscommon
900-500 BC"

What also interests me is the small bronze shield with the umbo missing. Were these bronze shields actually constructed of two parts?
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Fri 09 Dec, 2011 4:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Johan Gemvik wrote:
I find waxed leather to be weak against cutting edges, especially vs piercing with sharp double edged tips, often weaker than the leather is before waxing. Anyone used to leatherworking, making shoes or sewing in leather in general, knows if you wax the awl it goes through much easier, in the case of waxed leather it's actually pre-lubricated for going through it.

Yeah, but I don't think that really matters much. The Clonbrin shield is IIRC at least 6mm thick leather. Waxed or not, you're not going to get through that, certainly not held in the hand where the leather can flex to take the impact of a cut or trust. IMO stiffness is more important, to ensure the leather won't flex to the extend that it won't block a cut or thrust. But I often see the mistake made that shields were primarily meant to stop thrusts and cuts. What I've seen in sword & shield techniques, is that they are more used (in the case of large center gripped shields) to disable the opponents ability to make the cut or thrust in the first place, by blocking the freedom of movement. If you can't make the cut or thrust in the first place, then it doesn't even need to be resistant to it. Alternatively, deflecting a cut or thurst also doesn't require the shield to be able to resist a cut or thrust either. In that case it's a matter of steering the cut or thrust, not blocking it. These are things which are usually not taken into account in judging the effectiveness of a shield.


The Clonbrin shield (as well as metal equivalents) have raised ridges which stiffen up the shield considerably. Although tanned cowhide is already pretty stiff by itself, it should have been hardened to make it more stiff. I've been wondering though why they didn't just use rawhide. But according to descriptions of the Clonbrin shield, it seems that it was bark tanned (tannins have been analyzed). Just rawhide is extremely hard and difficult to cut. Smoke it, and seal it and you'd have the perfect material for a shield.

N.b. it would be worth taking a look at African leather shields, how they're made, including how the leather is prepared. Here you can find some information: [url] http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/Kent/shieweap/afrshie2.html [/url]

Quote:
If waxing is just pure guesswork as has been stated, perhaps one should try a different method of hardening alotgether?
How about using Natron soaking and oven drying, then soaking it in hide glue and baking it as I've tested and suggested to get the resutls described for the enigmatic cuir boulli of later ages. That would make it a rather stong hard to cut shield and wood-like in feel but still fairly lightweight. For water protection one could then wax the surface of course, but it wouln't be used to stiffen the shiled as such.
I'd been considering either using casein glue, or resin to harden and seal the leather (don't know how well that works though). Natron was not available (unlikely they'd import that all the way from Egypt), so they couldn't have used that.
Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Fri 09 Dec, 2011 4:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
But I really think the boss is too tall for it to be a mold for leather--that's really a LOT deeper than the boss on the Clonbrin shield

Hi Matthew, the boss on the Clonbrin shield is pretty much exactly as high as on the Cloonlara shield. I remember seeing it from the side in the museum, and was surprised at how high the boss was sticking out. That doesn't show in any of the pictures have. The boss is also a separate piece, which as been stitched on. I've read mentions that it may have been a repair, but it could also just be to enable such a high boss, which would be very difficult if making the shield from a single piece.

Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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Johan Gemvik




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PostPosted: Fri 09 Dec, 2011 5:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jeroen Zuiderwijk wrote:
Johan Gemvik wrote:
I find waxed leather to be weak against cutting edges, especially vs piercing with sharp double edged tips, often weaker than the leather is before waxing. Anyone used to leatherworking, making shoes or sewing in leather in general, knows if you wax the awl it goes through much easier, in the case of waxed leather it's actually pre-lubricated for going through it.

Yeah, but I don't think that really matters much. The Clonbrin shield is IIRC at least 6mm thick leather. Waxed or not, you're not going to get through that, certainly not held in the hand where the leather can flex to take the impact of a cut or trust.

Any decently sharp blade pierces 6 mm vegetable tanned leather pretty easily actually, even easier if the leather is waxed stiff. I've tried 5 mm thick waxed leather with sword and spear and the term "goes through it like butter" is more like it really, waxed hard it has the same stopping power as a bar of soap, a very thin bar of soap. As I said it would still keep the tip off the body of the shield wielder most of the time so it's still a viable defense and far better than no shield at all.

Jeroen Zuiderwijk wrote:

IMO stiffness is more important, to ensure the leather won't flex to the extend that it won't block a cut or thrust. But I often see the mistake made that shields were primarily meant to stop thrusts and cuts. What I've seen in sword & shield techniques, is that they are more used (in the case of large center gripped shields) to disable the opponents ability to make the cut or thrust in the first place, by blocking the freedom of movement. If you can't make the cut or thrust in the first place, then it doesn't even need to be resistant to it. Alternatively, deflecting a cut or thurst also doesn't require the shield to be able to resist a cut or thrust either. In that case it's a matter of steering the cut or thrust, not blocking it. These are things which are usually not taken into account in judging the effectiveness of a shield.

This is true for single combat or duels, perhaps even skirmishes, but not for wartime line battle where you have to take on a charging mass of enemies and stand fast. Then you have to have a stout shield that can take some serious damage when braced for impact. You do that with centergrips too, not just strapped shields.
Of course even a flimsy shield is still better than no shield and a lightweight small leather shield can be carried around effortlessly all day and these could be meant only for single fights and skirmish use and be plenty useful for deflection and voiding attacks. There were wood and all metal shields around after all, probably for the other heavier use.

Jeroen Zuiderwijk wrote:

The Clonbrin shield (as well as metal equivalents) have raised ridges which stiffen up the shield considerably. Although tanned cowhide is already pretty stiff by itself, it should have been hardened to make it more stiff.

Yes. I'm in no way denying any of that, just the flaw of using specifically wax for the stiffening. It's just not a good idea to add a lubricant to the material if one wants it to withstand edges and tips. Stretchy or even stiff glue seems like a way better alternative.

Jeroen Zuiderwijk wrote:

I've been wondering though why they didn't just use rawhide. But according to descriptions of the Clonbrin shield, it seems that it was bark tanned (tannins have been analyzed). Just rawhide is extremely hard and difficult to cut. Smoke it, and seal it and you'd have the perfect material for a shield.

Who knows? Perhaps tanned leather was just easier for them to waterform, or simply what they had available at the time. I too would think raw hide would be a good material. It does soften from moisture though, but if you wax the surface, or paint it to seal it...

Jeroen Zuiderwijk wrote:

I'd been considering either using casein glue, or resin to harden and seal the leather (don't know how well that works though). Natron was not available (unlikely they'd import that all the way from Egypt), so they couldn't have used that.

Yes! Happy I've done some test with it and the leather becomes very hard to cut, as well as stiffer. The one down side I've found is that hide glue becomes sticky with moisture.

Natron is simply one easy way of several to de-grease leather to turn it back into raw hide. I suggested it since raw hide is harder to come by nowdays, for a reproduction method of a shield like this. If one had raw hide in large pieces available one would just use that and forego the natron soak process and go straight to hide glue immersion. What I was really getting at was the glue soak. I've tried it and it turns leather into something very much tougher.
Something else that just hit me is that since hide glue is the cook off from tanned hide, perhaps it would throw off researchers trying to find out if the leather in the shield is tanned or not... Just a thought.

However, in the case of Natron, it's just natural bicarbonate (baking soda -aka hydrated sodium carbonate) and its use was not isolated to egypt historically. It's production was most likely not isolated to the lake Natrun but could be done in other places than Egypt as it occurs naturally in any arid lake area with the right conditions.
The following list (from wikipedia) may include geographical sources of either natron or other hydrated sodium carbonate minerals:
Africa Chad shores of Lake Chad, Egypt Wadi El Natrun, Ethiopia Showa Province, Europe Hungary Bács-Kiskun County, (Great Hungarian Plain), Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County (Great Hungarian Plain), Italy Campania, Province of Naples
Somma-Vesuvius Complex, Russia (Northern Region) Murmanskaja Oblast, Kola Peninsula, Khibiny Massif, Lovozero Massif, Alluaiv Mountain, Umbozero Mine, Kedykverpakhk Mountain, England UK Cornwall St Just District and Botallack - Pendeen Area.

Ancient greek and Roman texts describing it's use as well as medieval european texts still exist.
This is still a stretch perhaps without hard solid evidence, I haven't seen any Irish, British or Scandinavian texts from earlier iron age describe its use but then we don't have much of any of that from this time period. But then my idea with Natron was just one of several means to degrease tanned leather to prepare it for a glue soak.

"The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on" -Coleridge
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Fri 09 Dec, 2011 7:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jeroen Zuiderwijk wrote:
Hi Matthew, the boss on the Clonbrin shield is pretty much exactly as high as on the Cloonlara shield. I remember seeing it from the side in the museum, and was surprised at how high the boss was sticking out.


Huh! Okay, that's interesting! Not sure *I'd* want to try stretching it out that deeply, but once again the ancients can always do it better than we can (grumble....). But I'd still say it's better and MUCH more easily done by dishing into a female mold with a mallet.

Quote:
The boss is also a separate piece, which as been stitched on. I've read mentions that it may have been a repair, but it could also just be to enable such a high boss, which would be very difficult if making the shield from a single piece.


Oh, I thought I read that what we are seeing is a cap, basically, a second layer over the top of the boss. I think that's in Coles' article, but I'd have to dig around to be sure.


Johan Gemvik wrote:
Any decently sharp blade pierces 6 mm vegetable tanned leather pretty easily actually, even easier if the leather is waxed stiff. I've tried 5 mm thick waxed leather with sword and spear and the term "goes through it like butter" is more like it really, waxed hard it has the same stopping power as a bar of soap, a very thin bar of soap.


Hmm, well, that's apparently not what happened in the tests by Molloy or Burridge. Mind you, I've cut through thick leather with a modern Xacto blade pretty easily, too! Might just be the difference between that sort of directed cut with a modern tool and a battle-style blow from a bronze blade? Don't know!

Quote:
This is true for single combat or duels, perhaps even skirmishes, but not for wartime line battle where you have to take on a charging mass of enemies and stand fast.


Ah, but do we know that they did that in Bronze Age Ireland? Maybe their "line battles" were more like multiple duels? Don't know! Maybe leather shields were more common among javelin-toting skirmishers, or something.

Isn't hide glue made from UNtanned hides? It shouldn't add any tannins to glue-soaked leather. The analysis of the Clonbrin shield concluded that the tannins were too concentrated to be just from soaking in a bog for 3000 years, so it was definitely tanned leather. However, it was not very *well* tanned, so it was almost rawhide on the inside with leather on the outside. Gives you the benefits of both, really.

Matthew
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sat 10 Dec, 2011 3:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Russ Mitchell reckons that semi-tanned leather is good material for shields and armour. Problem is that you can't buy it today because tanners consider it to be reject product and reprocess it so that it is fully tanned.

One method to help stiffen a leather shield is to reinforce it from the inside with wooden staves. Homer calls them kanon. There is a possible depiction of them at Medinet Habu.



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Egyptian depiction of the Sea People at Medinet Habu.
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Dec, 2011 3:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jeroen Zuiderwijk wrote:
I remember seeing it from the side in the museum, and was surprised at how high the boss was sticking out. That doesn't show in any of the pictures have.
I've attached a pic of both shields side by side. Happy

For good measure, I also included the bronze shield from Lough Gur (which I rotated upside down).

Johan Gemvik wrote:
This is true for single combat or duels, perhaps even skirmishes, but not for wartime line battle where you have to take on a charging mass of enemies and stand fast. Then you have to have a stout shield that can take some serious damage when braced for impact. You do that with centergrips too, not just strapped shields.
Of course even a flimsy shield is still better than no shield and a lightweight small leather shield can be carried around effortlessly all day and these could be meant only for single fights and skirmish use and be plenty useful for deflection and voiding attacks. There were wood and all metal shields around after all, probably for the other heavier use..


But the exact nature of bronze age warfare remains a question. If you look at the Ilias, much of it seems to be fact single combat rather than shield wall combat. From Roman sources we know that the Celts also preferred individual bravery to formation fighting.

Neither says much about the North-west European bronze age, but the idea of warriors with light and fast swords and light and fast shields makes me think of a rather individualistic kind of warfare.



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