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Jeff Smith




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PostPosted: Wed 19 Apr, 2006 8:53 pm    Post subject: Ref ancient swords found in rivers.. Why?         Reply with quote

I've noticed that many original medieval swords are reported to have been found in rivers... Why? It seems to be too frequent to be an accident. Was this perhaps a ritual way to "retire" a sword in ancient times?
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PostPosted: Wed 19 Apr, 2006 9:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oakeshott brings this up in Records of the Medieval Sword. No one really knows, but his theory is based along your lines of thinking: That most likely there was some sort of ritual in discarding the swords into rivers.

Ironically, it is the river finds that are best preserved because the swords get covered in peat and left almost untouched for centuries.

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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 12:55 am    Post subject: Re: Ref ancient swords found in rivers.. Why???         Reply with quote

Jeff Smith wrote:
I've noticed that many original medieval swords are reported to have been found in rivers... Why? It seems to be too frequent to be an accident. Was this perhaps a ritual way to "retire" a sword in ancient times?

One reason could be that it's a left over ritual from pre-Christian times, when such votive offerings were common since the first swords were made in the bronze age (and before that other valuable artifacts). I've read that eventhough it was officially forbidden by the church, votive offerings in rivers continued well in to the medieval period.

Another reason could be that it was because grave goods weren't allowed by the church, so when the owner was burried, the sword was cast into the river instead.

Yet another reason I could think of is that some swords may have been considered cursed. If a sword is believed to bring bad luck to the owner, the best thing would be to get rid of it by throwing it somewhere where it will never be retrieved. I would not be surprised if there was a lot of superstition involved with swords and other weapons. I mean, if the owner of a sword gets killed, someone else gets the sword and gets killed too (not an unlikely situation), then one can quickly come to the conclusion that there's something wrong about that sword.
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Geoff Wood




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 4:17 am    Post subject: Re: Ref ancient swords found in rivers.. Why?         Reply with quote

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Shane Allee
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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 6:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As it has been mentioned already in ancient times bodies of water were very significant spiritually to certain people, and we find all manor of objects give over to them. Another side that is often overlooked for the modern eye is how connected these people would have been to various bodies of water for basic needs. They as well as livestock will need a regular source of water. river bottoms are a very good area to be farmed because of the near by water and enriched soils. Water would have been a good source of food, not only for what you might be able to take directly from it, but animals that will be drawn to it as well. A source of transportation... They can also serve a natural barriers that would limit or slow access from people. Large river bottoms might also have been used for warfare locations, as well as crossings a good ambush location. So you have to figure that people of the past would have had a much closer tie to natural waterways for everyday needs. That connection alone will increase finds associated with bodies of water, but isn't the only factor. Streams and rivers are always changing, cutting new courses throughout the river/stream bottoms. So nothing deposited intentional or otherwise in bottom land is safe from one day getting into the waterway at some point in time. Everyday this natural excavation is happening, but it pretty much always destroys any kind of context around the object. Plus it can also be redepositing objects in different places that may not be found for hundreds more years later, if at all. Modern river dredging can aid in or destroy objects have have been redeposited.

Shane
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 8:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Could it simply be that a sword dropped on the ground was easier for somebody to pick up?

Metal has value and valuable things tend to get picked up. A sword dropped in the river probably has a much greater chance of staying there if not immediately recovered, simply because its more out of sight. Want a simple modern equivalent, drop a silver dollar in a parking lot and another in a river. Guess which one stays (essentially) where dropped the longest.

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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 9:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Shane Allee wrote:
As it has been mentioned already in ancient times bodies of water were very significant spiritually to certain people, and we find all manor of objects give over to them. Another side that is often overlooked for the modern eye is how connected these people would have been to various bodies of water for basic needs. They as well as livestock will need a regular source of water. river bottoms are a very good area to be farmed because of the near by water and enriched soils. Water would have been a good source of food, not only for what you might be able to take directly from it, but animals that will be drawn to it as well. A source of transportation... They can also serve a natural barriers that would limit or slow access from people. Large river bottoms might also have been used for warfare locations, as well as crossings a good ambush location. So you have to figure that people of the past would have had a much closer tie to natural waterways for everyday needs. That connection alone will increase finds associated with bodies of water, but isn't the only factor. Streams and rivers are always changing, cutting new courses throughout the river/stream bottoms. So nothing deposited intentional or otherwise in bottom land is safe from one day getting into the waterway at some point in time. Everyday this natural excavation is happening, but it pretty much always destroys any kind of context around the object. Plus it can also be redepositing objects in different places that may not be found for hundreds more years later, if at all. Modern river dredging can aid in or destroy objects have have been redeposited.

Shane


A very good and insightful post.

"The goal shouldn’t be to avoid being evil; it should be to actively do good." - Danah Boyd
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Chris Olsen




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 9:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Forgive me, but I am of the belief that like someone else said something on the ground was to easy to pick up,
if I had just sacked a town, and had disarmed the populace I would want to destroy their weapons, or at the bare minimum get rid of them so that they could not be used to rise up against me in a counter attack the river/lake/etc would have been the most practical.
Also when you consider the amount of other stuff found in rivers like the Thames, perhaps it was a convienant way to get rid of trash you could not find alternate uses for?
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Kirk Lee Spencer




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 9:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Shane Allee wrote:
...Streams and rivers are always changing, cutting new courses throughout the river/stream bottoms. So nothing deposited intentional or otherwise in bottom land is safe from one day getting into the waterway at some point in time. Everyday this natural excavation is happening, but it pretty much always destroys any kind of context around the object. Plus it can also be redepositing objects in different places that may not be found for hundreds more years later, if at all. Modern river dredging can aid in or destroy objects have have been redeposited.

Shane


I agree... Excellent point Shane

Just because it is found in a river today does not be it was placed in the river (though there is textural evidence of weapons begin thrown into bodies of water). Rivers migrate across their flood plain over several hundred years. The channel of the Trinity River in Texas is about a quarter mile from where it was when I was a boy.

ks

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Jeff Smith




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 10:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

All good points gentelmen, I'm sure it's a combination of all of the above. Happy
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Eric Myers




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 1:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Doubtless sometimes it was an accident, but there are lots of examples of swords that were "destroyed" or "killed" before being cast into the river: blades bent one or more times, temper ruined, etc. Some of these have valuable gold, gems, etc on the hilts, so they definitely weren't junk someone was trying to get rid of. These swords were clearly part of some sort of ritual, but I'm not aware that anyone knows the particulars.
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Edward Hitchens




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 3:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kirk brought up a good point: Perhaps the place where the sword was left several hundred years ago was dry land, and today is a river.

What I learned from Oakeshott was the common belief of water being the "elixer of life" and the Norse belief that swords are alive carried over into the Middle Ages. Even after the sword's owner had died and gone to Heaven, the sword itself would be cast into the water so that its soul would endure. I also believe there's a connection to this with Arthurian legend (i.e. Arthur receiving Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake, and later on, ordering Bedevere to cast it back into the water).

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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 4:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

And sometimes they really did go into the water by accident - for instance, the Castillon group of swords found in the Dordogne River. Is is hypothesized that these swords were on a barge that sank in the river on its way to deliver supplies to the English garrison in Castillon around 1450.
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Ville Vinje




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 5:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There are lots of findings were weapons seemed to be deliberately thrown into water or mosses. As mentioned above the weapons are often found together with other items like jewelry and even ritually killed animals like fancy dressed up horses.

In scandinavia there are lots of examples of the ritual of "killing" objects, weapons and animals and then sinking them in water or burying them.

It seems pretty clear to me that most of the findings are due to ritualistic behavior.
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George Doby




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 6:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

any body know the salt content of the rivers where most of these were recovered?
reason i am asking is that in my travels up and the brazos river here in texas i find numerous fishing lures. on ones that have been in the water for a while the hooks(steel) quickly rust off. wrought iron from old wagons, plows etc will last considerably longer some of the soft iron items have got to be close to 100 yrs old and there is still usable iron under the rust. axe heads are almost rusted away especially the edge. now granted most of the hooks wern't buried in the muck, but it seems the high salt content of the brazos water corrodes the steel much swifter than low carbon iron. the brazos headwaters near the panhandle of texas then drains through a coinsiderable amt. of gypsum and other natrual salts. one fork upstream is caled the clear fork and has good water in it; upstream the other mian river and forks it is mostly very saltier. even 300 mile downstream with numerous other stream coming into it iot is still salty compared to other rivers in the area.
point is depending on the mineral content of rivers swords may or may not survive, just a hyposisthe.
and i do believe that all of the above can be true. rarely is there any one 'thing' that causes something

don't sweat the petty things, just pet the sweaty things
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 8:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Although its romantic, I find the idea that people were running about chucking significant volumes of weapons into rivers and lakes for reasons of ritual highly suspect. I think quite a few things get found in rivers, simply because people live around them, use them for transport, and fight to control them since they have economic value. Ritual may play a role in some river finds, but I do not buy it as the driving force behind river finds.

Why?

In Ohio, rivers were the early transportation network. As such, towns and forts grew along rivers. Controlling rivers was vital to the French, British, Indians, and Americans. Many battles were fought on, in, or near rivers because controlling them allowed people to control the territory around them.

The Battle of Pickawillany was fought on bluffs along the Great Miami River.

The French Fort au Glaize controlled the Auglaize River from high ground.

The French Fort of Sandusky controlled Sandusky Bay.

The Battle of Point Pleasant (technically in WVa) was fough at the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawah Rivers. The Indians were routed when three companies of Virginia militia moved along the steep banks of the Kanawah and assulted the Indian forces in flank and rear.

After the engagement the Indians are said to have thrown their dead into the Ohio River.

The British post of Fort Sandusky (once a French Post) on the shores of Sandusky Bay was overrun during Pontiac's Rebellion, and then rebuilt.

Innumerable smaller engagements and massacres occured along the Ohio River (historical markers abound in Ohio, Kentucky, West Va, and Indiana) such as the Yellow Creek Massacre, Cresap's War, and The Battle of Lochry's Creek. How many traders, Indians, and settlers were lost to the river for whatever reason, will never be known with certainty.

Along Lake Erie, returning from Fort Detroit, Col. John Bradstreet's column was hit by a storm (Bradstreet's Disaster) while camped near Rocky Fork. They lost 24 flatboats and their contents. Unable to transport 6 cannons, they buried them for later recovery but the recovery attempt failed. Swords, muskets, cannon balls and other artifacts have been recovered from the site, but not the cannons.

The Gnadenhutten Massacre happened on a bluff overlooking the Tuscarawas River.

Crawford's expedition met disaster on the banks of the Sandusky River.

General Harmer was defeated at the junction of the St Mary's and St. Joseph's Rivers (they join to form the Maumee), in Fort Wayne Indiana.

On the Wabash River at Fort Recovery, St. Clair's army was nearly wiped out by Indians. It is the worst defeat of American forces by Indians ever (over 2x the casulties Customer suffered in defeat at the Little Bighorn). As late as 1851, almost 60 years after the battle, large numbers of remains were still being discovered along the river.

Later on the Wabash River at the site of St. Clair's Defeat, Fort Recovery was built by "Mad" Anthony Wayne. Subsequently Indians attempted to assult the fort, resulting in the Battle of Fort Recovery, a serious Indian defeat.

Fort Defiance is at the confluence of the Auglaize River and the Maumee River, downstream from Harmer's defeat.

Fort Adams sat on the St. Mary's River as did the St. Mary's Trading Post and Girty's Town.

Along a narrow corridor of the Maumee River near Toledo - The Battle of Fallen Timbers, The First Siege of Fort Meigs, The Second Siege of Fort Meigs, Fort Meigs (still there), and the British Fort Miamis are all within sight of each other from high river bluffs over the Maumee Rapids (British held north bank, Americans south).

The Battle of Fort Stephenson, was fought on the banks of the Sandusky River about 20 years after Crawford's disaster.

Fort Amanda still sits on a bluff over the Auglaize River.

Fort Findley sat on the Blanchard River.

Fort McArthur controlled the upper Scioto River.

Vance Blockhouse sat near the headwaters of the Great Miami River.

Urbana Fort watched the Mad River.

Fort St. Mary's controlled the St. Mary's River as did Fort Barbee.

Fort Auglaize was built on the Auglaize River near the site of the old French Fort au Glaize.

Ft. Loramie was on Laramie Creek

Fort Ball monitored the Tiffin River.

Fort Avery gaurded the Huron River.

Other Forts, Depots, and Blockhouses were built on river crossings throughout the state.

Later along the Ohio River - The Civil War Battles of Buffington Island and of Salineville (crossing of an Ohio River tributary) were fought.

The point of this long post is that lots of historicial artifacts and weapons get pulled out of rivers and lakes in Ohio too. However, the fact that this happens has virtually nothing to due with rituals.

Rivers were the highways of the day when the Ohio valley was settled. I see no reason to assume things were radically different in Europe in Medieval times. For example, Vikings are well known to have used rivers to penetrate most of the continent for trade and plunder. The Rhine was documented as, and is, a huge trade artery.

Until the advent of steam power, ships, barges, and boats where the only way to efficiently move bulk goods. Because of this rivers had (and have) very significant economic, tactical, and strategic value. I am inclined to believe we find weapons in rivers simply because people used them, valued them, and fought each other to control them. People still fight to control rivers and water today, they are still important assets, but with few exceptions, it has little to do with spiritual or ritual value. Economic value is usually reason enough to start a dispute.

Perhaps I'm wrong, but I don't see a need to add mystery to the explaination for these finds.

"The goal shouldn’t be to avoid being evil; it should be to actively do good." - Danah Boyd
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 9:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Many types of metals actually corrode slower if continuously submersed in cold water. Sounds suspicous I know, but there are a lot of factors including encrustacion with mineral deposits and surface oxides that actually provide a protective barrier over the surface. In deeper water the temperatures are often low enough that oxidation is quite a bit slower than it would be in environments where the temperature is only 10 to 20 degrees warmer. In contrast, metals that are repeatedly soaked and dried oxidize and corrode very rapidly. This cyclic moisture, warmer temperature exposure is precisely what happens to materials that are left in shallow earth in regions where it rains.

Structural bridge steels that are intended for cyclic moisture or salt water conditions have been developed with coatings that are specifically designed to immitate this "encrustation" effect with a chemical layer that is designed to rapidly and throrougly oxidize (rust but in a very fine and tightly sealed molecular structure) that actually seals off the metal lying underneath from further corrosion. Sounds wierd, but the initial rapid formation of rust is actually the steel's best protection. Such bridges have lasted longer than my life time while newer bridges relying upon epoxy paint coatings or other approaches have been condemned in much less time. (This happens to be an area of expertise for two previous generations of structural engineers within my family. I will have to consult with my father....now 74 years old but still "razor sharp" mentally, if any one really needs more precise details.)

I can not claim to know any percentages of the following assertion, but a lot of archeological findings can be categorized as being found in; submerged environments, dry sealed tomb containers, or under earth in arrid/desert (possibly very cold environments) type conditions. Some of the most perishable materials (wood, paper, leather, etc.) have decent chances of surviving if submerged in cold water environments. A fairly expensive but popular trend in present American artisan wood working is to utilize exotic burled and original native species wood that have been recovered from ships that sunk in cold waters approximately 200 years ago. I have seen a few pieces of such wood for sale, and one would never guess that it had not been carefully stored in a laboratory.

The threat to artifacts, I suspect, is not dependent on being in wet or dry enviornments. It is exposure to cyclic wet/dry that really is most universally damaging.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Fri 21 Apr, 2006 1:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joe Fults wrote:
Although its romantic, I find the idea that people were running about chucking significant volumes of weapons into rivers and lakes for reasons of ritual highly suspect. I think quite a few things get found in rivers, simply because people live around them, use them for transport, and fight to control them since they have economic value. Ritual may play a role in some river finds, but I do not buy it as the driving force behind river finds.


Interesting insight! It does indeed throw a different light on the subject.

However, I must point out that at least until the late iron age or even including the Roman period, ritual deposition of swords and other artifacts in rivers, bogs and other places did indeed occur. So it's not that far-fetched to believe that this custom survived into the medieval period. I don't know where I read it, but I did read somewhere that pagan rituals such as placing offerings in such places did continue well into the medieval period, despite it being forbidden by the church.

In some form it even survives to this day. Making a wish while dropping a coin into a well or small pond is such an example. A future archeologist digging out such a well could theorize that when you find a lot of coins at the bottom of a well that it was simply lost coins by people getting water out of the well. However, we even construct wells that are not used at all to get water out of at all, and only function to make wishes and while throwing in a coin. We don't do it because we believe there's some god at the bottom of that well, which will happily take that coin and grant our wish. It's now superstition, but once had a real religious origin. I see no reason why it would be any less likely that similar rituals did occur in the medieval period.
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Fri 21 Apr, 2006 7:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jeroen Zuiderwijk wrote:
Joe Fults wrote:
Although its romantic, I find the idea that people were running about chucking significant volumes of weapons into rivers and lakes for reasons of ritual highly suspect. I think quite a few things get found in rivers, simply because people live around them, use them for transport, and fight to control them since they have economic value. Ritual may play a role in some river finds, but I do not buy it as the driving force behind river finds.


Interesting insight! It does indeed throw a different light on the subject.

However, I must point out that at least until the late iron age or even including the Roman period, ritual deposition of swords and other artifacts in rivers, bogs and other places did indeed occur. So it's not that far-fetched to believe that this custom survived into the medieval period.


Jeroen,

I accept that ritual deposits occured, ample evidence supports it happening. Its the scale of ritual deposits that I'm questioning, because it seems popular to asign a ritual or religious significance to almost everything pulled out of the water. The point I'm trying to illustrate with my Ohio history lesson, is that things end up in rivers and lakes for a multitude of reasons. Unless there is clear indication of a ritual deposit, not that I would know what that would be, I think its safer to assume a more mundane reason for the item being in the water.

Even if its not as much fun to do so.

"The goal shouldn’t be to avoid being evil; it should be to actively do good." - Danah Boyd
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Fri 21 Apr, 2006 8:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joe Fults wrote:
Jeroen,

I accept that ritual deposits occured, ample evidence supports it happening. Its the scale of ritual deposits that I'm questioning, because it seems popular to asign a ritual or religious significance to almost everything pulled out of the water. The point I'm trying to illustrate with my Ohio history lesson, is that things end up in rivers and lakes for a multitude of reasons.

I know, and I agree. But what I was pointing out is that while your examples show that there is a very good chance that swords ended up in these places without any ritualistic reasons, there is also good reasons to believe that ritual depositions are also a very realistic possibility.

Joe Fults wrote:
Unless there is clear indication of a ritual deposit, not that I would know what that would be, I think its safer to assume a more mundane reason for the item being in the water.

Even if its not as much fun to do so.
IMO, if there is no clear indication one way or the other, then we simply must conclude that we don't know why they ended up in the river. In the examples you mentioned it's clear that they ended up there without any ritualistic reasons. But for prehistoric swords, it can be quite safely assumed that the majority were deposited in a ritualistic manner. But at least your post did make it it clear to me that accidental loss is not such an unlikely possibility either, and that many swords can end up in rivers that way.
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