Software drives virtual reconstruction of a horse warrior’s folding sickle

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The software-driven three-dimensional virutal reconstruction of the original appearance of the Nasielsk folding sickle, with its ornamental handle made of antler. Photo: https://doi.org/10.23858/PA68.2020.009
The software-driven three-dimensional virutal reconstruction of the original appearance of the Nasielsk folding sickle, with its ornamental handle made of antler. Photo: https://doi.org/10.23858/PA68.2020.009

A researcher has undertaken a virtual reconstruction of a 1000-year-old folding sickle that probably belonged to an elite horse warrior.

The fragment was unearthed during archaeological research in the ruins of the stronghold at Nasielsk in Poland in 2006 by Dr Mariusz Błoński. Although only partially preserved, its telltale shape allowed its function to be identified as a folding sickle handle.

The recovered part of the ornamental handle, made of antler, most likely dated to the second half of the 10th century, but may have been made as late as the mid-11th century.

The second part of the same handle, found to be illegally kept by unauthorized persons, is known only from a photograph. There is no doubt that one part is the continuation of the other.

Mateusz Osiadacz, writing in the journal Przegląd Archeologiczny, said the artifact is decorated with a ring-chain pattern suggestive of the Pomeranian school of Scandinavian-Insular decoration.

The origins of this style emerged in the 10th century with the combining of Celtic, English, and Scandinavian elements – and it was developed intensively in western Pomerania.

The hole in the handle would have contained a rivet, upon which the moveable blade would have pivoted.

Various views of the preserved part of the antler sickle handle.
Various views of the preserved part of the antler sickle handle. Photo: https://doi.org/10.23858/PA68.2020.009

“The artifact from Nasielsk has only partially survived,” Osiadacz said. The preserved fragment of the handle was scanned three-dimensionally as part of his efforts to make a reconstruction. Documentation of the second, unavailable fragment was also used.

Osiadacz examined available evidence on early medieval folding sickles to aid in his reconstruction efforts, learning about the likely shape of the blade, the continuation of the ornamental work, construction methods, and the sickle’s likely design features.

His work allowed a software-driven virtual reconstruction of the possible original appearance of this artifact.

Osiadacz, with the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology at the Polish Academy of Science, acknowledges that the reconstruction of the original appearance of the object is based principally on analogies and so it is admittedly hypothetical.

“Any virtual reconstruction of an object requires defining characteristics that are not fully supported by data, and thus it needs to be supported by analogies,” he said.

A part of the same handle, known only from a photograph. Photo: https://doi.org/10.23858/PA68.2020.009
A part of the same handle, known only from a photograph. Photo: https://doi.org/10.23858/PA68.2020.009

“In the case of a visual reconstruction, it is not possible to omit selected elements that are not sufficiently documented. Thus, the virtual reconstruction work is always subject to the risk of error, and the basis for the scientific credibility of the process is a description of the method used and reference to sources.”

Osiadacz noted that folding sickles in archaeological studies have usually been treated as agricultural tools, with a range of cutting uses proposed by researchers, although it has been suggested that early medieval folding sickles could have been an element of horse riders’ equipment.

One researcher noted that in the Saschenspiegel, a law book of the Holy Roman Empire from the 14th century, there is an image of a horse rider cutting grass with his sickle.

In 1962, it was proposed by E. Stattler that decorated folding sickles-knives were used to emphasize the elite status of rider warriors, and were used in military campaigns, having descended from tools used to cut horse fodder.

Stattler remarked that in ancient mythology a sickle was sometimes mentioned as a weapon and had a strong relationship with warriors, while also having a religious function.

Reconstruction of the sickle from the side.
Reconstruction of the sickle from the side, with the preserved part of the handle (a) and with the fragment known from a photograph (b). Photo: https://doi.org/10.23858/PA68.2020.009

Osiadacz said folding sickles in early medieval times could still be universal agricultural tools, but the valuable ones, with carefully finished decorations, were certainly reserved for a society’s elite.

The virtual reconstruction of an early medieval folded sickle from Nasielsk. Mateusz Osiadacz. Vol. 68, Przegląd Archeologiczny, DOI https://doi.org/10.23858/PA68.2020.009

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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