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J. Hargis




Location: Pacific Palisades, California
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PostPosted: Mon 30 Apr, 2012 2:23 pm    Post subject: So many 'river finds', but why?         Reply with quote

I'm struck by the fact that many swords of note have been found in rivers, at least that is my perception. Repeatedly I read, i.e.: 'Historic sword found in Thames River', or 'River yields great sword of royalty', or a museum note 'dredged from the so & so river', etc.

Naturally, grave finds make plenty of sense to me, the swords were buried with the deceased, no mystery there. Or fields of historic battles may yield to this very day an occasional find of note.

But it's the river finds that have me a wondering a bit. Obviously rivers acted as waste dumps of sorts, so yes, one would find worn, daily use cutlery tossed away, but repeated river finds of swords which must have been valuable items of their times I do find odd. Of course, there were battles aboard ships which might explains some of this, or perhaps military actions at key bridges.

Anyone have words of wisdom on why so many river finds of important swords? Are their scholarly writings which address this?

Thanks for your thoughts.

Jon

A poorly maintained weapon is likely to belong to an unsafe and careless fighter.
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Christopher Lee




Location: Sunshine Coast, Australia
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PostPosted: Mon 30 Apr, 2012 2:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I’m sure that you will receive a concise and accurate answer – but in the meantime, I’ll fill some space with my thoughts on the subject.

I think that it’s a combination of factors - river crossings and fords were places of high traffic but also the occasional locations of battles; i.e. Battle of the Yellow Ford; Battle of Farsetmore, Horatio at the Bridge, Battle of Stamford Bridge, Stirling Bridge, London Bridge and so on. Weapons that fell into the water were probably less likely to be recovered compared to those left on land.

Also, items can be accidentally dropped in rivers and lost, floods could inundate a settlement and wash items into riverbeds, rivers could alter their course and erosion could mean that a previously buried item would be deposited into a watercourse, and so on.

The other major factor I think would be the preservation conditions – the anoxic environment within river mud would slow down the corrosion and after a certain point the layer of corrosion would protect the remnants of the item from further degradation. Items left on land would perhaps be less likely to survive for long due to the greater rate of oxidisation, variable soil conditions, greater likelihood of disturbance due to agriculture, construction, etc.

Then there is of course the “ritual” element associated with various cultures – the deposition of weapons and other high value items into rivers and swamps. These items could sometime have been made specifically for ritual purposes, have been spoils of war or trophy items, or have been a much treasured personal item which is given up as an act of sacrifice – all are possible interpretations.

These are just some preliminary thoughts upon the subject which will have to suffice until someone can provide a real answer.


Last edited by Christopher Lee on Mon 30 Apr, 2012 2:59 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Patrick Kelly




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PostPosted: Mon 30 Apr, 2012 2:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Christopher hit the points pretty well.

Also, consider this: remove yourself from the 21st century and all of the modern conveniences we take for granted. Today we don't give any more thought to crossing a river than we do about breathing, but in antiquity it cold be a major undertaking. Accidents could and did happen on a regular basis, both while making a crossing and travelling by waterway. Given that riverine travel was one of the major modes of travel and commerce it isn't at all surprising so many finds are made around well travelled waterways. The next time you're travelling down a major highway keep an eye on the roadside ditch. You'd be surprised how many lost items accumulate there.

"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Mon 30 Apr, 2012 3:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There was at least one incident in the Scottish Highlands when a victorious clan threw the swords of their opponents in a nearby loch. Sorry that I cannot remember the details. I always felt that a victorious enemy might do that. However, it would seem to be a waste of needed weapons.
Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Austin D.G. Hill




Location: Darien IL., USA
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PostPosted: Mon 30 Apr, 2012 3:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

i have a theory (could be wrong) that they were left there after battles. after all, on land you can come back after the battle and look throught the gore for weapons to claim and reclaim, aka the spoils of war. in a river finding them could be really hard, what with all the silt, the current, and occasional river depth. also, not everyone can swim. so with not many being able to claim them they were left. just a theory anyway.
AUSTIN DANIEL GLENN HILL
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Mon 30 Apr, 2012 6:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Large, navigable rivers are also regularly dredged. Thus items burried in the riverbed will be brought to the surface.
An enterpricing worker might sell any valuable items as a fringe benefit rather than turn them over to a museum, causing many of these finds to end up in the private market.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Mon 30 Apr, 2012 6:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here are some previous threads on this subject that may be useful.

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=15084
http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=13927
http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=6643

Happy

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http://chadarnow.com/
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Mon 30 Apr, 2012 7:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

i own one of those river swords! in addition to the possibilities described above, remember that rivers appear and disappear, change course, turn into lakes, etc. Artifacts that once were high and dry end up in the muck. i once worked at a native american site by a river. the site's artifacts were slowly being deposited in local driveways and roads via the gravel barge we were racing. no doubt, there are many artifacts submerged in that pit. strange things happen. those natives buried in their living rooms could not have guessed that their remains and possessions would turn up in a load of gravel...or in a museum or lab storage room, come to that.
-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)


Last edited by Sean Flynt on Tue 01 May, 2012 7:30 am; edited 1 time in total
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Mon 30 Apr, 2012 7:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

All of the above, but there may be a more personal element to some of those river swords.

Imagine yourself a warrior of bygone times who has spent many years with a particular sword strapped to your side. You've been through a lot together and you're pretty attached to it. Now you're getting on in years, maybe ailing. Or maybe you've aquired a new sword that's far better. At any rate, you still feel attached to the old one but it has reached the end of its usefulness. Perhaps you could pass it on to a younger relative, but maybe you don't have one you like or the sword has really become outdated and useless. What do you do with it? Give it to someone you don't respect? Trade it to someone who will melt it down for the steel? Convert it into a tool for some menial task? Toss it in the medieval garbage dump? After all those years it served you so well?

There is something indefinably elegant and respectful about tossing a sword into the local waterway. One can easily picture standing alone by the waterside on a misty morning, the sword circling through the air before it makes its final splash in the water. Its the personal moment of a warrior saying goodbye to what was once his most prized possession, retiring it in fact and in memory so that no one else can despoil it.

I could totally seemyself doing it. In fact, I've been tempted to do so with some of my older sentimental favorites that are not really up to current standards, but it conflicts with modern environmental sensibilities and maybe the law.

This is all purely subjective and speculative, but some things in human nature probably never change.
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Ralph Grinly





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PostPosted: Tue 01 May, 2012 3:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As well as all the reasons given above..there's one more possibility for so many (relatively) river finds. Today, what with good roads and such, pretty well all our transportation goes by land. In medieval/dark age times..there really were very few land transportation routes. Most so-called "roads" were little more than poor dirt tracks - mud wallows much of the time. Most traffic was via the rivers . More transport via rivers and streams..more chances to loose things in rivers.
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Ed Toton




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PostPosted: Thu 03 May, 2012 1:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think everyone was trying to return them to the lady of the lake, or of the river, etc. Happy You know, strange women lying in ponds, and all that. Happy
-Ed T. Toton III
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Charles Neeley




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PostPosted: Thu 03 May, 2012 8:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One additional option, a guilty conscience ridding itself of a murder weapon.

How many gangster and police movies have I seen where someone tosses a pistol into the waters from the docks I cannot honestly count.

For SCA heavy combat, I'm in the process of building myself a new Celtic shield. While researching the dimensions I need to make mine, I was recently reading about the Battersea Shield. According to the conclusions here, http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highligh...hield.aspx there was still quite a bit of pagan ritual involved, offering showpiece items to a deity that you can surmise has something to do with the River Thames, et al.
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Fri 04 May, 2012 9:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Charles Neeley wrote:
One additional option, a guilty conscience ridding itself of a murder weapon.

How many gangster and police movies have I seen where someone tosses a pistol into the waters from the docks I cannot honestly count.


Except that the most common medieval *murder* weapon was apparently a piece of firewood! Domestic squabbles gone violent, much like today. People who typically carried swords were not likely to be doing much murder, and any deaths resulting from brawls or duels were not likely to cause enough remorse to cause a perfectly good sword to be chucked in the drink. Heck, in the earlier middle ages, even outright murders were often punished by fines (weregeld), so why add the cost of a sword to that?

Of course, later on you might get armed mercenaries wandering around potentially causing trouble and doing murder, but those types don't strike me as very remorseful, either!

Matthew
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