Monday, April 22, 2013

Glass 'Sword Bead' ??

On 11/03/13 4:38 PM, Scott wrote:
I've got an opportunity to make some beads and I'm trying to find historical info on sword beads... and their use on scabbards. Have you found anything relevant to this?
General readers might have seen that the other major experimental archaeology project (besides iron smelting)  DARC has been working with is glass bead making. Most specifically as an experimental archaeology process, attempting to figure out how VA furnaces would have been constructed and function. see :
(Readers might also want to troll this blog - search 'glass bead')

Although I do have some understanding of small charcoal fires, I thought it valuable to learn how to actually make beads as well. So I invested in a half decent oxy / propane torch (a home built by David Robertson) and a pile of glass, built a simple annealer. I've made maybe 150 - 200 beads at this point. Not a huge number, but enough at least have some idea of the basic processes.
Some modern patterned torch made glass beads, about 1.5 cm diameter
I was interested (from some time back) in the 'sword bead' references.
I can also only remember some pretty vague second hand descriptions. These from back in my SCA days, when solid documentation was hardly the norm.
I think I may have come across the references in 'the Sword in Anglo Saxon England' by Ellisson (Davidson?). I've got it here someplace and may try to find the correct citation later.

What I remember is this:
That there was a custom in Saxon times to fix a 'touch stone' to the sword. These were often unusual shaped or coloured stones, often with a natural hole in them. A lace would secure this stone to the scabbard or hilt of the sword. The thought was that the stone would draw the poison out of any wound inflicted by the blade. If you cut yourself sharpening, you had ready access to the stone. An enemy would most certainly not. So even a superficial cut would fester and perhaps even kill your enemy after the fact.
This might not be too big a stretch on observed reality for the time. With no understanding of germs and disease, and the regular process of tightly binding a wound (to keep evil 'vapours' out) - gas gangrene would be a common occurrence.
The specially made glass sword bead is then an extension of this practice into a man made object.

I think I may have seen a single artifact object at some point (failing memory!) which was described as a 'sword bead'. Given that the average Viking Age glass bead is closer to 1 cm in diameter (or less), a larger and ornate glass bead found in a male burial - close to the position of the sword (ie waist), would be a obvious thing.

I got the following on a Google search :

From the British Museum
Background - C 600  England - Anglo Saxon
Description - Green glass sword-bead, drum-shaped.
Dimensions  -Diameter: 2.1 centimetres
(no image included)

From the British Museum Background - 4th - 5th Century - Ukraine (Hun?)
Description - Chalcedony sword-bead; disc plano-convex section; central perforation.

A more random search will yield :

 Tilerman Beads, the pieces are his modern replicas, he does quote the individual sources however.

Anglo-Saxon/Merovingian Sword Beads

As seen on the Facebook Page
Photos of Mike's reproductions of Anglo-Saxon and other 5-7c continental sword beads. They were most likely used as amulets, fastened to the scabbard. The size and decoration are not what determines a sword bead, it's the presence in a male grave and (where recorded) in a position associated with sword/scabbard. They were not used as whetstones, as glass would not be suitable for that use. Similar beads appear in female graves and may be amuletic, too, or symbolic rather than functional spindle whorls.

Sword Bead - Howletts - Grave 20


Sword Bead - Howletts - Grave 20
A cylindrical translucent green bead with vertical ribbing on the sides.  Dated to the 6th century, found with a sword and a gilt bronze buckle.

I *think* this is Mike Poole's replica of the first bead referenced above from the British Museum. He does list a number of other 'sword bead' replicas on both his web site and Facebook pages.

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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