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Fixing a tanged spearhead

DJD Johnson

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Hi everyone I am new on here.

I am trying to find more information on how Bronze Age spearheads were fixed into a shaft.

I should mention I am an artist but have for several years been collecting Cypriot antiquities and studying the archaeology, mostly from the Bronze Age (2500-1050 BC).

I am giving my collection (http://ant.david-johnson.co.uk ) back to a museum in Cyprus (it was probably almost all looted from tombs originally) and I am working with an archaeologist to write the catalogue for the museum.

I own 2 bronze spearheads, one (which has a hooked tang with a button end) from the Early Bronze Age I -II (2500-2100 BC), the other (socketed) from the Late Bronze Age III (1200 - 1050 BC).


About the tanged one: I have heard that the hook in the tank was to stop the head from pulling out and that they were fixed into the the shaft by splitting the wood at the end, inserting the blade into a groove and binding the shaft with a cord.  However my archaeological companion will not let me put this in the article without some proof this is an accepted idea (perhaps from experimental archaeology, preferably a book or paper).

Have others heard this and has anyone an idea where I could go to get this information?


I enclose a photo of the older blade (38cm long - ie 15").  If people are interested I will enclose a pic of the later blade (from about the time of the Trojan war).

280814JSAA067 copy.jpeg

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I have no proof for the idea of a split shaft, but as a maker of edged objects, it makes perfect sense.  The Japanese from time to time, used a split shaft mounting for Naginata.  They would take the wooden shaft and split off one side of it, then create a space for the tang and seat the tang in the shaft.  They would then pin and bind the split shaft with cord and an asphalt glue.  Sometimes these were additionally reinforced with a metal collar.


I'm wondering if your example would not have been treated in a similar fashion.  The shaft would have been drilled and split.  You would then seat the tang, with the hook up against the unsplit portion of the shaft and then glue and wrap the split part of the shaft.  The shaft, cord, and glue would be organic and ephemeral, so traces of them would be hard to find.  Additionally, the heads might have been dismounted from the shafts for easy storage.  I have been told that the builders of siege engines would retrieve the metal parts after a siege and leave the wooden structures behind.  You might only build a big engine (like a trebuchet) only once or twice in a lifetime, and you couldn't move a big once it was assembled.  The metal parts would be the most important bits.


I don't think the head pulling off the shaft would have been the issue  The stresses that you have to worry about on a pole arm are the tangential shear lines.  If you thrust, the direction of force is back along the line of the shaft, and it's strong that way.  But if your thrust is deflected, or you strike with a sweeping motion, then you have huge stresses at right angles to the tang.  Pulling the head out of a target would not be much a problem, if your anchoring system was strong enough to hold the head, pulling on it should be the least of your concerns.

I don't know if you have had the opportunity to see the US TV show Forged in Fire.  In the process of each episode they test (brutally) hand weapons made by smiths.  The pole arms have all been the most vulnerable to breakage.  Shafts shear or shatter, long shanks bend, blades break or bend.  The amount of leverage a human can produce on a 6 foot shaft is much more than one might think.

I don't know of any Bronze Age reenactors, but that could be a resource for real world testing.  A steel replica would be as good for testing, since you are not testing the material, but the mounting system.


I don't know if any of that is useful to you, but please feel free to post more pictures here of your collection.  I'm sure that others will be interested as well.



"The worst day smithing is better than the best day working for someone else."


I said that.


If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

- - -G. K. Chesterton


So, just for the record: the fact that it does work still should not be taken as definitive proof that you are not crazy.


Grant Sarver

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I recommend asking our resident bronze age guru, Jeroen Zuiderwijk. Hopefully he'll see this and chime in, but if not, send him a PM.  I'm an archaeologist, but I know nothing about the Cypriot bronze age.  I'm a new world guy.  I do love the wall-o-bronze at the Museum of London, though.  

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