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Secrets of the Ice (FB page)


Joshua States
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I recently found this FB page called Secrets of the Ice. It's a page devoted to the archeology work around the receding glaciers in the arctic circle. They have found several weapons, trail marking cairns, and other artefacts. You can read some of the story here.

 

First up, a couple of iron arrow heads and the text from the FB page

Arrow Head 1

Special iron arrowhead of a rare type. The arrow shaft is also preserved (right). First find of this type of arrowhead at the ice. The type is only known from a single grave find from our county. The grave find dates to c. AD 550-600.

 

Arrowead 1.jpg

 

Arrow Head 2

Iron arrowhead with the broken remains of the wooden shaft. The arrowhead has a flat tang and a long blade. The type is well known from Iron Age burials in the lowlands and dates to AD 300-600.

 

Arrowead 2.jpg

 

A very well-preserved knife was also found.

Trollstein Knife

A long time ago, a hunter butchered a reindeer at our Trollstein site. When the job was done, the knife was left behind for some reason. Was it lost in the snow? Many centuries later, we found it close to the retreating ice. A sorry loss for the hunter but a great gift to archaeology! A radiocarbon date from the birch handle places the knife in the 5th or 6th century AD. Would you believe it – it is 1500 years old! (5/10)

 

Trollstien Knife 1.jpg

 

Trollstien Knife 2.jpg

 

Trollstien Knife 3.jpg

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“So I'm lightin' out for the territory, ahead of the scared and the weak and the mean spirited, because Aunt Sally is fixin’ to adopt me and civilize me, and I can't stand it. I've been there before.”

The only bad experience is the one from which you learn nothing.  

 

Josh

http://www.dosgatosdesignsllc.com/#!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdJMFMqnbLYqv965xd64vYg

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Another knife found, with no dated age yet.

Iron Knife

A large iron knife with a grip consisting of rings in copper alloy and antler/bone. It is probably from the Medieval period.

The iron knife as it was found lying between the rocks. The find spot has probably only seen intermittent snow and ice cover, so part of the grip has rotted away. The knife is c. 29 cm long,

 

Iron knife 1.jpg

 

A close-up of the grip showing the various rings of copper alloy and antler/bone. There was probably wood between the rings, but that has rotted away due to exposure.

 

Iron knife 2.jpg

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“So I'm lightin' out for the territory, ahead of the scared and the weak and the mean spirited, because Aunt Sally is fixin’ to adopt me and civilize me, and I can't stand it. I've been there before.”

The only bad experience is the one from which you learn nothing.  

 

Josh

http://www.dosgatosdesignsllc.com/#!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdJMFMqnbLYqv965xd64vYg

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I shall refer people who say you NEED stabilized wood to that first knife...  :lol:

 

I've been keeping up with this project for a couple of years now.  It was rather secret at first, because there was so much stuff coming out of the ice that they didn't want anyone coming up and looting before things could be recorded.  Overall I think they're up to around 1,000 arrows or arrowheads, at least one sword, and several knives.  Everything from Neolithic to early modern.

 

The same thing is happening everywhere in the arctic, there's just no iron (or not much) in the North American arctic.  They did find links of mail on Ellesmere Island in the 1970s, so more Viking stuff may yet melt out of the ice around Baffin Bay.  The Inuit have been recording all sorts of stone, bone, and ivory hunting tools turning up all across the continent.

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2 hours ago, Alan Longmire said:

I shall refer people who say you NEED stabilized wood to that first knife..

Seriousness.

It's burl wood judging by the grain in the photo. I wonder how much use it got before being dropped in the snowbank. Then you have to figure that several years went by with it out in the elements, going through freeze-thaw cycles, before it finally was encased in ice. Yet the handle didn't split apart and disintegrate. What were these guys using for a finish? I want some of that! :P

“So I'm lightin' out for the territory, ahead of the scared and the weak and the mean spirited, because Aunt Sally is fixin’ to adopt me and civilize me, and I can't stand it. I've been there before.”

The only bad experience is the one from which you learn nothing.  

 

Josh

http://www.dosgatosdesignsllc.com/#!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdJMFMqnbLYqv965xd64vYg

J.States Bladesmith | Facebook

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23 minutes ago, Joshua States said:

What were these guys using for a finish?

Yak dung, it's good for everything :)  (OK, that is an inside joke with a peer group of mine, but you all aren't that group.  Trust me, it's funny)

 

Interesting that they chose what appears to be a highly figured piece of wood.  Given that it is weaker and harder to work than a straight grained piece, it supports a hypothesis that they valued the appearance of their tools enough to put up with the more troublesome material.  I wouldn't have guessed that for such a utilitarian item.

-Brian

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Birch burl is actually tougher than straight grained birch.  I bet it was soaked in birch tar as well.  They used that burl because they didn't want the handle to split, and boy, did it work!  

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I would bet that it was dipped in rendered fat, like whale or walrus oil

 

“So I'm lightin' out for the territory, ahead of the scared and the weak and the mean spirited, because Aunt Sally is fixin’ to adopt me and civilize me, and I can't stand it. I've been there before.”

The only bad experience is the one from which you learn nothing.  

 

Josh

http://www.dosgatosdesignsllc.com/#!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdJMFMqnbLYqv965xd64vYg

J.States Bladesmith | Facebook

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On 3/15/2022 at 5:17 PM, Alan Longmire said:

Birch burl is actually tougher than straight grained birch.  I bet it was soaked in birch tar as well.  They used that burl because they didn't want the handle to split, and boy, did it work!  

That's good to know.  I should seek out some birch burl to play with.  Is it like elm burl then?

-Brian

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Watched a YT video recently about a similar situation elsewhere, but the finds were not nearly as cool.

 

I'm just absolutely amazed by what they made without all our tools and electricity & stuff, and the thought of how much work it must have been makes me empathize with how bad the loss of such a tool must've been.

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These are super cool! Always a treat to see knives that old so well preserved, especially the handles.

 

On 3/17/2022 at 5:13 AM, Brian Dougherty said:

That's good to know.  I should seek out some birch burl to play with.  Is it like elm burl then?

I have found that it is generally a pretty difficult wood to get ahold of. There are two major types, the big round "onion" burls which are easier to find and then the "cap" burls with spikes, often from root balls (the best ones are, IMO). These are the ones that have "eyes" like the one on the knife above. A lot of the sources I have found ship from Russia, which is obviously not a great option now. A lot of the time they are also sold stabilized, making raw ones even harder to find. I found a place in the UK selling blocks, but they weren't quite as good. In the far north, especially by Sami knife makes old and new, goat willow root burl (often translated as "sallow" from Finnish etc.) is used as well and is almost indistinguishable in photos but has a somewhat lower density. I have yet to get ahold of a piece of that wood that wasn't on a knife handle, even after asking around with some specialty wood folks in Finland.

 

My best luck honestly came from a time when I dug up stumps of broken grey birch trees after a series of big snow storms, and then it was a race against insects that I often lost. Sorry for the rant, this material has been a difficulty for me, and also remains one of my absolute favorites. I don't mean to discourage you, just to say you might have to be patient and do some internet sleuthing to find a source of this stuff that you like.

 

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There are a couple of Russian guys on IG doing their own dying and stabilization of figured wood and burls. Mostly Linden, Maple, Birch, and some other stuff.

I purchased three blocks from one of them a while back. It took a month for them to arrive by post, but the stabilization was perfect.

Александр Осипов (@aleksbekwood) • Instagram photos and videos

I haven't purchased from the other guy yet

Алексей Осипов (@alur.pnz) • Instagram photos and videos

“So I'm lightin' out for the territory, ahead of the scared and the weak and the mean spirited, because Aunt Sally is fixin’ to adopt me and civilize me, and I can't stand it. I've been there before.”

The only bad experience is the one from which you learn nothing.  

 

Josh

http://www.dosgatosdesignsllc.com/#!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdJMFMqnbLYqv965xd64vYg

J.States Bladesmith | Facebook

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https://www.etsy.com/shop/JStatesBladesmith

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  • 5 weeks later...
On 3/15/2022 at 1:29 PM, Joshua States said:

I recently found this FB page called Secrets of the Ice. It's a page devoted to the archeology work around the receding glaciers in the arctic circle. They have found several weapons, trail marking cairns, and other artefacts. You can read some of the story here.

 

First up, a couple of iron arrow heads and the text from the FB page

Arrow Head 1

Special iron arrowhead of a rare type. The arrow shaft is also preserved (right). First find of this type of arrowhead at the ice. The type is only known from a single grave find from our county. The grave find dates to c. AD 550-600.

 

Arrowead 1.jpg

 

Arrow Head 2

Iron arrowhead with the broken remains of the wooden shaft. The arrowhead has a flat tang and a long blade. The type is well known from Iron Age burials in the lowlands and dates to AD 300-600.

 

Arrowead 2.jpg

 

A very well-preserved knife was also found.

Trollstein Knife

A long time ago, a hunter butchered a reindeer at our Trollstein site. When the job was done, the knife was left behind for some reason. Was it lost in the snow? Many centuries later, we found it close to the retreating ice. A sorry loss for the hunter but a great gift to archaeology! A radiocarbon date from the birch handle places the knife in the 5th or 6th century AD. Would you believe it – it is 1500 years old! (5/10)

 

Trollstien Knife 1.jpg

 

Trollstien Knife 2.jpg

 

Trollstien Knife 3.jpg

any idea the size of the scales in the photos ?

Brandon Sawisch bladesmith

 

eagles may soar but weasels don't get sucked in to jet engines

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2 hours ago, dragoncutlery said:

any idea the size of the scales in the photos ?

As marked, those are centimeters.

“So I'm lightin' out for the territory, ahead of the scared and the weak and the mean spirited, because Aunt Sally is fixin’ to adopt me and civilize me, and I can't stand it. I've been there before.”

The only bad experience is the one from which you learn nothing.  

 

Josh

http://www.dosgatosdesignsllc.com/#!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdJMFMqnbLYqv965xd64vYg

J.States Bladesmith | Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/dos.gatos.71

https://www.etsy.com/shop/JStatesBladesmith

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I was looking back at this and turned found a video where an archaeological conservator talks briefly about a few of the knives:

 

https://fb.watch/ctHXSw3GL9/

 

I tested it and I believe you should be able to watch the video without a facebook account.

 

Is there a catalog/archive started of finds somewhere online? I have found some Scandinavian museums to have excellent photographic catalogs online, but I haven't looked around much for these other than the Secrets of the Ice website. The X-rays taken of various finds are very interesting as well (one taken of a sword hilt suggested that the guard may have come from a different, earlier, blade and been re-fitted, also an article worth looking up).

 

It is interesting to see a few pre "Viking" knives from the area, especially as they generally get less love than their later cousins, especially among people making knives today. One of the knives in the video had a clipped point, which was suggested to place it in the Roman era (though it was mentioned that knives in the transition after the Viking era also had that shape), and as Joshua said above, the large knife with a birch handle was dated to be quite old indeed.

 

EDIT:

 

I think this is the archive of the museum where some (all?)  of them reside, this is a search for "kniv" it turns up 5000+ entries, so I'm not yet sure if these items are there, but there is lots of good stuff: https://www.unimus.no/portal/#/search/things/freetext?value=kniv&requirePhoto=true

Edited by Aiden CC
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One more update, I skipped to the end in the hope that maybe newer finds would be there (hard to work the advanced search in Norwegian) and believe  found the original source of the images of a knife I have seen around a number of times which appears to have come from a melted ice find in 2011:

 

https://www.unimus.no/portal/#/things/94e19ed2-beeb-4b49-aa76-0dee2c4cfcc8

 

viking_age_knife_1.jpgviking_age_knife_2.jpg

The background and x-ray imaging looks very similar to the documentation of the other ice finds. In some ways, this database is even more useful than the ones in Sweden and Finland I have used in the past, especially with regards to the collection much more consistently including scale bars in the images.

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Am I seeing that right that there is a curl in the end of the through tang and a wood peg holding things together?  Given the lack of gaps in the x-ray I would assume this means the tang was inserted into the handle, then the end bent, then the peg added (or possibly the tang bent around the peg).  Pretty interesting.  

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Interesting indeed!  Jeff Pringle has a few bare blades with tangs he picked up through his Baltic contacts that are shaped with that peculiar step between blade and tang.  Roughly that size, too, but I don't remember seeing that curl on his.  

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49 minutes ago, Alan Longmire said:

Interesting indeed!  Jeff Pringle has a few bare blades with tangs he picked up through his Baltic contacts that are shaped with that peculiar step between blade and tang.  Roughly that size, too, but I don't remember seeing that curl on his.  

Having handled much of Jeff's collection, I can say the curl is fairly unique in preservation, but not remotely surprising. I find it consistent with low-complexity tooling in the period, and making replicas like that wouldn't offend my sensibilities at all.

On the profile geometry, it's important to remember that what you're often seeing is excessive wear from sharpening relatively low-carbon steels over and over with rougher stones than we're typically used to in modern cutlery. There's almost certainly equal offset on the original edge as there is the spine, making it symmetrical with the rest of the handle, like most modern Puukko are made.

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The Tidewater Forge

Christopher Price, Bladesmith

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Yeah, I know Jeff's are the sharpened to death remnants of these, and that the curl would be an early fatality of a dug up or river found blade.  I just like how on this one you can see that step from spine to tang starting earlier than most of Jeff's. This one got lost about halfway through its life, in other words.

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I don't know much about knife history but I would not have expected burl wood to have been used for a handle. I've seen the argument made before against reproductions (though not of that era) that burl wood for knife handles is really a modern thing. Shocking that someone on the internet could have been wrong!

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First, an update on my search for a catalog. I reached out to Lars Holger Pilø, a co-director of the project and got a very quick reply from him. Unfortunately, there is no catalog of images of these finds specifically, however as you can see from the knife I posted, finds from the ice have ended up in the museum's digital catalog eventually. He pointed me to Vegard Vike, who is credited for all of the photos I have looked at (and also is in the video I found) and has a lot of twitter posts about all sorts of archaeological finds, including many from this project, and was also kind enough to send me some more pictures of knives, including one of the ones already posted here and this intriguing small one from the 11th century:

 

Lendbreen1.jpgLendbreen2.jpg

One of the interesting things about this knife is that it also has the asymmetric shoulders, but the blade actually flows quite naturally with the handle. This is speculation, but perhaps it was originally forged close to this shape, or maybe worn down from a larger knife and stuck in a new handle?

 

 

@Jerrod Miller, according to a translation of the catalog entry, the loop in the tang contains a fragment of leather, speculated to be part of a longer strap. You can kind of see it in the second photo below. From the X-ray, it looks like the loop is curled up into a channel cut into the butt of the handle, at least as far as I can tell. The tang and matching hole have been subtlety been bent to that the loop is in the center of the end of the handle instead of off to one side. The whole construction is very neat, I think I might have to make a version of this knife some time.

viking_age_knife_6.jpg

viking_age_knife_5.jpg

 

@Francis Gastellu birch burl has been a popular handle material in northern areas for a long time. If you look at knives from Lapland to Eastern Siberia, you can find beautiful examples of it being used on knives for at least the past few centuries, and as this example suggests, over a thousand years. I've heard one explanation that the changing directions of the grain make it resist splitting, as a crack would have to follow a much more tortuous path through the material as it follows all the twists and turns of the grain. If I had to guess I would say that a burl is less durable along the grain than straight grained wood and more durable in the transverse direction. I have removed several curly birch (slightly different beast but similar idea) handles by splitting them off, and it can be a real challenge, even with a hammer and chisel.

 

Edited by Aiden CC
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This is just fascinating...........was wondering if that loop in the tang would've been done hot or cold?

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I am trying to visualize the process of inserting a straight tang through a block of wood, and then curling the tang end around a leather strap so that the ring formed is inset into the butt of the handle. There must have been a notch in the handle heel. The tang end is then partially hammered into the loop. Insert the leather through the hole and close the loop down into the notch. Brilliant!

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“So I'm lightin' out for the territory, ahead of the scared and the weak and the mean spirited, because Aunt Sally is fixin’ to adopt me and civilize me, and I can't stand it. I've been there before.”

The only bad experience is the one from which you learn nothing.  

 

Josh

http://www.dosgatosdesignsllc.com/#!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdJMFMqnbLYqv965xd64vYg

J.States Bladesmith | Facebook

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https://www.etsy.com/shop/JStatesBladesmith

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