Fashion in the Age of Datini

Analysis of Spearheads, Ferrules and Shafts from Migration-Age Anglo-Saxon Burials

This essay was originally posted by Bruce Edward Blackistone of the Longship Company, MD, in the thread “spear shafts,” Sword Forum International (2004) It has been republished here in case that forum is lost.

© 2005, Bruce Edward Blackistone, used with permission

The following is a casual analysis of some 69 spearhead sockets and eight ferrules (butt spikes) found in the following migration age cemeteries: Alton, Hampshire; Worthy Park, Kingsworthy Near Winchester, Hampshire; Bifrons, Northeast Kent; Sewerby, East Yorkshire; and Empingham II, Rutland. A bibliography of sources will be posted at the end.

A note on accuracy: The majority of these measurements were taken off of half-scale drawings, using calipers, and rounded to the nearest millimeter. English fractional equivalents were rounded (for the most part) to the nearest 1/8th inch. In addition to the possible inaccuracies of this method, it must be born in mind that the erosion of and accretions on the artifacts caused by oxidation and 1500 years of inhumation makes exact measurement somewhat a question of judgement. However, I do think that the sample is large enough, and far ranging enough, that some preliminary conclusions can be drawn.

Since the initiative for this came from a debate about: “How thick were spear shafts?” the basic measurement is the outside of the end of the spear socket and ferrule. Where available, I also provided the inside measurement, since the shaft would be no thinner than that. In the books consulted, several of the remaining spearheads and ferrules had some remains of the shaft still extent, and several note that the shaft was flush with the outside of the socket, and inlet to fit the interior of the socket.

In seven cases we have both the spearhead and the ferrule, and in five of those cases we can estimate the length of the spear shaft. However, two of the others were broken to fit in the grave, and with one possible exception, the others may well have been broken to fit also. (Please note that this is probably a practical consideration, and not a ‘ritual killing” of the object, since none of the weapons in the graves, or other grave goods, are mutilated.)

First, a tabulation of the spear and ferrule combinations, with an estimate of the overall length (Also note that the actual length of the spearhead and ferrule may have been slightly longer, due to loss from corrosion):

Spear Lengths:

Alton (Grave 2)

Head (G2, Ob3a) ID OD 20mm (3/4”) L 441mm (7”) Ferrule (G2, Ob3b) ID 12mm (1/2”) OD 20mm (3/4”) L 96mm (3 ¾”) Shaft Length L 2.028M (6’8 ½”) LOA 2.365M (7’9 ¼”) (Length overall)

Alton (Grave 45)

Head (G45, Ob5a) ID OD 22mm (7/8”) L 244mm (9 5/8”) Ferrule (G45, Ob5b) ID 10mm (3/8”) OD 18mm (3/4”) L(short) 60mm (2 3/8”) Shaft Length L 1.512M (4’11”) LOA 1.816M (5’11”)

Sewerby (Grave 37)

Head (G37, Ob1) ID OD 26mm (1”) L 298mm (11 ¾”) Ferrule (G37, Ob2) ID 18mm (3/4”) OD 22mm (7/8”) L 106mm (4 3/16") Shaft- shaft was broken, with the ferrule laid alongside the head.

Sewerby (Grave 45)

Head (G45, Ob1) ID 20mm (3/4”) OD 26mm (1”) L 118mm (4 5/8”) Ferrule (G45, Ob2) ID 14mm (1/2”) OD 20mm (3/4”) L 118mm (4 5/8”) Shaft- 775mm (1’10 ½”) broken and laid parallel.

Kingsworthy (Grave 22)

Head (G22, Ob2.1) ID OD 22mm (7/8”) L 262 (8 5/16”) Ferrule (G22, Ob2.2) ID 13mm (1/2”) OD 17mm (5/8”) L 67mm (2 5/8”) Shaft 1.675M (5’6”) LOA 2M (6’6 ¾”)

(Grave 45) Head (G45, Ob1.1) ID OD 21mm (7/8”) L 212mm (8 3/8”) Ferrule (G45, Ob1.2) ID OD 19mm (3/4”) L 103mm (4”) Shaft L 1.425M (4’8”) LOA 1.741M (5’8 3/8”)

(Grave 50)

Head (G50, Ob1.1) ID OD 25mm (1”) L 317mm (12 ½”) Ferrule (G50, Ob1.2) ID 15mm (5/8”) OD 20mm (3/4”) L 97mm (3 7/8”) Shaft L 1.8M (5’11”) LOA 2.215M (7’3 3/8”) Note: Spearhead was bent to fit in, or was fit in at a vertical angle and the weight of the backfill bent it over the years. Measurement is with straightened head. This is one case where I feel pretty confident that the entire spear shaft is represented.

The first thing that struck me is that the ferrules are uniformly smaller in diameter than the spear sockets. This is consistent with using coppiced branches for shafts, using the thicker base part for the spearhead. This would also give the spear better aerodynamic performance in a throw, since stability is increased when the center of gravity is ahead of the center of pressure, and the thinner section of the shaft would have more surface area proportionate to the weight.

The second factor noticed was the apparent variety of lengths of the spear shafts. In using throwing spears over the years, I’ve discovered that they tend to break at the socket, and have frequently reshafted them by the simple expedient of cutting back the shaft to clean wood. The two broken shafts were both from Sewerby, which had three of the four widest spearhead sockets at 26mm. One might conclude that the armed populace of Sewerby had a thing for large, long spears; or at least long enough that you had to break them in two to fit them in the grave.

Now, this does not mean that we have the exact shape of Anglo-Saxon migration age spear shafts. For all we know they were thick in the middle and tapered in beautiful distal curves towards the spearhead and back towards the ferrule. For all we know, given what one can do with coppiced timber, they had a figure-of-eight knot tied in the middle. However, illustrations from before and after this period depict spear shafts as simple, thin straight lines, and a thin, straight shaft, or one that naturally tapers towards the butt, as the whithy grows, certainly work well enough, and we have (to my knowledge) no evidence to the contrary.

An overall view of spearhead diameters:

Of the 69 spearheads, the outside diameters of the sockets broke down as follows: 16% were about 1” (4 at 26mm, 3 at 25mm, and 4 at 24mm) 26% were about 7/8” (2 at 23mm, 11 at 22mm, and 5 at 21mm) 49% were about ¾” (28 at 20mm, 1 at 19mm, and 5 at 7mm) 7% were about 5/8” (3 at 17mm, and 2 at 16mm) 1% was about ½” (1 at 14mm)

I was astonished at the number of spear sockets at 20mm (~3/4”), to the extent where I went a rechecked the scales I was using. I have not done more than a cursory analysis of the spearhead styles in relation to the socket outside diameter, but they seemed fairly unrelated. Short and wide, long and thin, short and thin and long and wide all could have 20mm sockets.

Raw Data for Spearheads

If any of you have Excell spreadsheets, I’ll be glad to e-mail the data, as well as the graphs, so that you can play with the data for yourselves. I also hope to post the graphs, and the entire article, on the Longshipco website in the near future.

My article on forging Anglo-Saxon style spearheads can be found at:

Spearheads (Socket diameters)

(Measurements are in mm.)

O.D.——- I.D.——– Item

26———16———-Sew G10, Ob1
26———————-Sew G37, Ob1
26——— 20——— Sew G45, Ob1
26———————- Bif 215
25———————- Kin G49, Ob3
25———————- Kin G50, Ob1.1
25———————- Kin G97, Ob1
24———————- Alt G16, Ob5
24———————- Kin G83, Ob1
24———————- Bif 211
24——— 16——— Emp G119c, Ob1
23——— 17——— Bif G66, Ob1
23———————- Bif 217
22——— 16——— Alt G34, Ob1
22———————- Alt 42, Ob5a
22———————- Kin G22, Ob2.1
22———————- Kin G81, Ob2
22———————- Kin G87, Ob1
22———————- Bif212
22———————- Bif 214
22———————- Bif 216
22——— 16——— Emp G74, Ob6
22——— 16——— Emp G86, Ob1
22——— 16——— Emp Unstrat
21———————- Kin G24, Ob2
21———————- Kin G45, Ob1.1
21———————- Kin G46, Ob1
21———————- Kin G84, Ob1
21——— 16——— Emp G59, Ob6
20——— 14——— Alt G1, Ob2
20———————- Alt G2, Ob2
20———————- Alt G2, Ob39
20———————- Alt G4, Ob1
20——— 14——— Alt G6 Ob2
20——— 14——— Alt G7 Ob1
20———————- Alt G16, Ob6
20——— 14——— Alt G36, Ob1
20——— 12——— Alt G40, Ob1
20——— 14——— Alt G44, Ob1
20——— 18——— Alt G49, Ob1
20——— 15——— Alt Unas, Ob1
20———————- Kin G33, Ob2
20———————- Kin G71, Ob1
20———————- Kin G79, Ob1
20———————- Kin G94, Ob1
20———————- Bif 213
20———————- Bif 219
20———————- Emp G3, Ob2
20——— 14——— Emp G26, Ob3
20——— 10——— Emp G26, Ob4
20——— 14——— Emp G31, Ob4
20——— 14——— Emp G45, Ob6
20——— 13——— Emp G56, Ob2
20——— 14——— Emp G84, Ob1
20——— 14——— Emp G92, Ob4
20——— 14——— Emp G98, Ob2
20——— 13——— Emp G110, Ob1
20——— 14——— Emp G119b, Ob4
19——— 12——— Emp G75, Ob1
18———————- Alt G1, Ob3
18——— 12——— Alt G45, Ob1
18——— 13——— Emp G35, Ob6
18——— 12——— Emp G36, Ob2
18——— 13——— Emp G196, Ob1
17———————- Kin G44, Ob2
17———————- Kin G95, Ob2
17——— 13——— Emp G104b, Ob1
16——— 12——— Emp G125, Ob1
14———————- Alt G4 Ob2

Ferrules (Spear Butt Spikes)

22——— 18——— Sew G32, Ob2
20——— 12——— Alt G2, Ob3b
20——— 14——— Sew G45, Ob2
20——— 15——— Kin G50, Ob1.2
20———————- Bif 221
19———————- Kin G45, Ob1.2
18——— 10——— Alt G42, Ob5b
17——— 13——— Kin G22, Ob2.2

Sources for Anglo-Saxon Spear Head Data:

The Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Empinghsm II, Rutland; Jane R. Timby; Oxbow Books, © 1996; ISBN 1 900188 15 5

An Anglo-Saxon Inhumation Cemetery at Sewerby, East Yorkshire; Susan M. Hirst; York university Archaeological Publications 4; © Crown, 1985; ISBN 0 946722 02 1

Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History 11 (Bifrons); David Griffiths; Oxford University School of Archaeology; © 2000; ISBN 0 947816 93 3

The Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Worthy Park, Kingsworthy Near Winchester, Hampshire; Sonia Chadwick Hawkes with Guy Grainger; Oxford University School of Archaeology, Monograph No. 59; © 2003; ISBN 0-947816-60-7

An Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Alton, Hampshire; Vera I. Evison; Hampshire Field Club Monograph 4; © 1988; ISBN 0-907473-05-9

These books are really wonderful, and include spearheads with one, two and four rivets/pins/cross-pieces, as well as a wealth of other artifacts, including mail necklaces for women (!).

Since Viking Age spears tend to be thicker and wider, and perhaps longer, I would very much like to see an equivalent analysis of Viking spearheads, and if possible, ferrules and shafts.

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