ORP: Anglo-Saxon Knife



If I had to define the objective of our class I would say it was to learn history through interaction with materials.  The purpose of my individual paper was to better understand the Anglo-Saxons by studying a knife they left behind. This knife was discovered without a home in the West Stow Heath, an excavation site rich with Anglo-Saxon artifacts.  I went through a process of remodeling the knife through the means of photogrammetry, and the end result was as close as I could get.  


Background and Context

As I had mentioned earlier the knife was not found in a home or building, so trying to figure out what the knife’s primary use was little more than educated guesswork.  It was found outside so there is a stronger case for the knife being a farming tool over something that would be in the house. The best explanation I can come up with was that it was used as a tool and was possibly dropped.  The benefit of having a knife was that it could be used for a wide variety of tasks. This could mean that knives were carried around frequently and could have been lost or dropped outside. Additionally, there were multiple other knives discovered in the West Stow Heath which implies that knives were common tools.

The knife was created out of iron which was normal for knives, however, iron was a valuable material for Anglo-Saxon smiths.  The smiths had developed methods to conserve as much iron as possible during the crafting process. I bring this up because the knife I studied was one of the biggest ones found in West Stow.  Once again, the extensions I can make are limited but it is possible that the size could have been indicative of status or that the knife was made for a specific task. Anglo-Saxon knives were also exceptionally made.  They are better made than Roman knives and other medieval knives. This is in part due to the process in which the blades were heat treated and had steel added to them. The reason why knives were so well made is because of the demand for them.  People needed knives far more than spears or swords because knives are more useful in an agricultural and domestic life. The smiths had extensive practice making knives due to the high demand for them. This lead to a refining of their technique and an increase in the quality of knives.  I emphasize their quality because this did not apply to all metalworkings. For example, spearheads were not the same quality as knives because they were not made as much. Smiths had more practice with knives hence why they were crafted better. The Anglo-Saxons were, in reality, farmers over warriors and the quality of knives implies that.


I decided to take the route of photogrammetry in my reconstruction process due to liability issues with metal working.  Nonetheless, I intended to make the best out of what I had and began the long and strenuous journey of 3D modeling. The process itself was not difficult just time consuming, and most of the time I found myself frustrated with the program.  However, in its own way, I was facing the resistance of the 3D modeling program. Resistance in materials is one of the key elements of material culture that I learned about in class and that is highlighted by Tim Ingold (material culture expert).  Most of the time spent on the process was waiting for the object to render. However, I constructed two chunks, each representing one side of the knife. I had to manually align both of these chunks in order to get a better representation of how the knife looked.  Additionally, I had some issues with the green screen which lead to me individually masking each of the 82 photos. Both of these things could have been done automatically with the program I was using but it just was not working in my favor. After doing most of the project manually, I had reached a point where I could apply a density cloud so that I could sit back, relax, and look at how my (hopefully) beautiful Anglo-Saxon knife.  Unfortunately, the rendering took around three hours on one side, and after it finished I could not successfully merge the two chunks together. The result was one decent looking side to a knife.


Although I could not get hands-on with smelting and molding I did still face plenty of resistance, just through a different medium.  I would like to discuss the benefits of using 3D modeling. If you are an observational learner this is the process for you. I learned a lot about the overall design of the knife which I could examine without damaging the object.  I think that when examining older artifacts, photogrammetry is an excellent resource. It is a form of interaction with an object that you may not be able to touch, and I would say that it is the next best thing. Now, I would have much rather preferred to have actually done some metal working so that I could better empathize and understand what the smiths actually had to go through to make a quality knife.  A more authentic recreation would enrich my ability to not only understand the Anglo-Saxons, but also to discuss the extensions I had with some of my own experiences incorporated into them.