First, as a warm up, last October Archaeologists Discovered 20 Sealed Ancient Egyptian Coffins. It’s a unique find, in that the sarcophagi are very well preserved and are still entirely sealed. While I’m always the curious type, 2020 being what it is – may I suggest perhaps we shouldn’t open them? 😅
Seriously, though, read the article. In addition to the sarcophagi (whose date can range from the Late Period – just before the Hellenistic conquest, to the 18th Dynasty – where a lot of interesting stuff happened), there were further discoveries in the valley next door. These were about 30 workshops used for many aspects of producing funerary goods for royalty and wealthy individuals. I’m always curious about the lives of the ordinary people, and this is very promising.
I’m going to look for some further reports on what came out of those discoveries. Hopefully not the zombie apocalypse, but if you don’t hear from me again, well, there you have it. (Just in case, I’ll leave you with some more reading material…)
Moving on (but staying in the Bronze Age), some experimental archaeologists have taken to investigate how bronze weapons were used. Bronze is not as durable as steel, so there were a lot of speculation about useful were they as weapons, the extent on damages they suffered during combat, etc.
I came across it in this Gzmodo article: Citizen Scientist Larpers Recreate Bronze Age Sword-Fighting Techniques To Uncover Ancient Combat Secrets, but in it there’s a link to the original research paper, which makes an interesting read.
Some of techniques were adapted from medieval manuscripts (the oldest surviving fight manuals — anything prior than these, like Vegetius, only talk in general terms about military matters, not showing specific techniques). While that has obvious limitation, it is still a powerful technique for experimental archaeology.
One, the focus is on the material. Bronze has sometimes been thought too heavy and not strong enough to hold a sharp edge. That, mercifully, has been clearly dispelled – archaeological weapons bear marks similar to what the reenactors used, meaning they were used in combat.
As for the techniques themselves, quite a lot can be surmised by analysing the shape of the weapon, in particular the hilts. There is only so much movement in biomechanics that make sense for weapon use (wuxia notwithstanding), so the shape of the weapon and accompanying shield can tell a lot about how these weapon were used in battles. One can clearly see that people sophisticated enough to mine and smelt copper and tin to make bronze, would be able to make use of those weapons quite effectively.
That doesn’t even touch on metallurgy in general, and when one looks at gold and silver artefact, which while softer the skill achieved is astounding. If you’d like a primer article on the evolution of copper and bronze metalworking, I’d suggest this one. If you’d prefer pretty pictures (I do), you can look at the gold mold cape from England, or these duck heads from Syria. There’s also the whole of the British Museum’s collection by period, though it takes a bit of trawling to find interesting tidbits. In any case, there was undeniable skill at metalworking, so the above experiment in reconstructing the usage and usefulness of bronze weapons in important.
Lastly, most people who love history love ancient maps, and I think most visitors of this blog belong to that crowd.
You will be delighted to find, then, that the Rumsey Collection in Standford is been digitised and put online. This is one of the most comprehensive map collections in existence, and contains a seemingly inexhaustible supply of cartographic images. It includes rare 16th through 21st century maps of America, North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Pacific, Arctic, Antarctic, and the World — including such items at Mercator’s original Atlas (from which the above image is take). There are over 150,000 objects in the collection and close to 100,000 maps are already available online.
That’s about it for now. I’m on a bit of a Bronze Age bender as you might have seen from recent posts. Any day now and I’ll be reading the Iliad and Odyssey again 😉
At least this is all acting as background inspiration to my next (non-Felix) writing project. If you know about good books about life in the Bronze Age (from Germanic and Celtic tribes to Mesopotamian cultures – but heavy on the daily life aspect), do let me know.