What is this bronze object my friend found in a field in France?
February 17, 2012 1:28 AM   Subscribe

My friend found this bronze piece in a field in the outskirts of Montady, a small town in the south of France. It's quite heavy, and seems to be solid. I've included a Euro coin for scale. Any ideas what it is?
posted by dbarefoot to Society & Culture (36 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
To me it looks like that thing that you install in the pavement next to a door in the city, so that people can scratch the dirt off their soles before entering. Don't know the name of it. I've seen them in Amsterdam, Paris and other cities.
posted by knz at 2:02 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

To me it looks like the head of an axe styled after the "Indo-Persian battle-axe". In the 19th century these were popular decorative items.
posted by RichardP at 2:31 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think this piece looks older than 19th century. My husband is from Alexandria and we have some super cool stuff from ancient times he's found in the desert in Egypt.

Do you have any good museums nearby? Take it there.

I'll direct this link to a friend of mine that's an anthropologist. Have no idea if she'll tell more than what I did, which is to have it examined by an expert.

Cool post!
posted by jbenben at 2:35 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think knz means a bootscraper. I think it's sort of the wrong shape for that, though.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:35 AM on February 17, 2012

I thought perhaps it might have been a tool used by ploughmen - perhaps a hoof pick. I also looked to see if it might have been a tool for hunters to clean skins. However there does not seem to be a clear precedent for either of these tools. So I am also going to go with a small axe - perhaps like this one.
posted by rongorongo at 2:57 AM on February 17, 2012

are there a series of holes along the curved edge? I think I have seen something like that where feathers, or leaves would be put into the holes and make a fan
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:59 AM on February 17, 2012

Something like this?
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:02 AM on February 17, 2012

I'm voting small hand axe. It that the remains of a handle in the middle?
posted by plinth at 3:05 AM on February 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

To me, it looks like a rocker blade for mincing herbs although it doesn't seem to be very sharp.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:47 AM on February 17, 2012

It's pelta-shaped, if that helps with searching. My guess is a piece of horse harness.

posted by Leon at 4:06 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding that that looks (quite a bit) older than 19th century. Don't go through any border customs carrying that, because you might be illegally transporting an antiquity-- contacting a museum or academic is probably the best route to go.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:41 AM on February 17, 2012

(I work with some bronze Roman objects and I'm not saying that's what this is, but the patina on the bronze looks damn old to me)
posted by oinopaponton at 5:43 AM on February 17, 2012

I think its the top decoration for a fence or gate, because it looks like it is broken off right where it would connect to another part.

Its not a knife but just for reference it does have the shape of an Inuit or Scandinavian knife (scroll down) used to scrape flesh from skin (sorry for that visual).
posted by cda at 6:02 AM on February 17, 2012

I was sure it was a halberd, but now have my doubts. Google halberd and click on images. There are a few which look exactly like your picture, but are fitted 90° to the handle, whereas yours looks to sit at the end of a handle.
posted by Hobgoblin at 6:51 AM on February 17, 2012

I think it's a pestle of some sort.

The edge doesn't look like it was ever sharpened, and the handle looks like, well, a handle, recessed on one side, but not the other.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:18 AM on February 17, 2012

If you find out what it is (go to a local museum, etc.), please come back and update! Inquiring Armchair Archaeologists want to know!
posted by Elly Vortex at 7:22 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Use the Google Goggles app on it and see if that leads you anywhere.
posted by madred at 8:14 AM on February 17, 2012

If you imagine a handle where the broken part is, you can visualize the tool as a kind of hand ax with a "pounder" on one side and a "chopper" on the other, like certain modern tools. Hit nails or stakes with the pounder, chop wood with the chopper. The chopper is not sharp but that may mean it's very old and the edge has worn down or eroded away. Just a guess.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 8:22 AM on February 17, 2012

Looks like something used to flay the skin off of a carcass. Google flaying knife.
posted by Gungho at 8:42 AM on February 17, 2012

Why am I stuck on this? It definitely looks like an axe. So we have to ask the question: weapon or tool or decorative?

Let's assume weapon. It looks too small for an effective weapon for up close work and doesn't fit in the mold for polearms (which tend to look more like tree trimmers gone made, which in fact they are) as it is missing appropriate poking bits. Were it a weapon, I would suspect that the hammer side would have teeth so as to mitigate glancing blows (which is part of the goal of armor - turn a direct blow into a glancing blow). It's useless for stabbing. Maybe the back part is extra mass to cut off bits, but given the size it seems like you'd have trouble taking off anything more than a finger that was held down. Really, a dagger would better. Maybe it's a throwing axe, but I couldn't find anything even close to that. Let's put it in a very low probability as a functional weapon.

Let's assume tool. If it's a tool, what job was it used for? Certainly not taking down trees. Too small. That leaves a few other things: chopping, cutting, or splitting. For example, giving the size, I could see it as being used for shingles. You could use it to split shakes and nail them down (did they use nails in the bronze age?), but the damning item is the lip right where the handle goes in. That would get in way of splitting and the wedge is not steep enough. A decent splitting maul would have a heavy back for being hit and a much wider angled wedge than an axe. So I'm voting that down. It might be a small axe for cutting up kindling or trimming branches off a tree. The decoration on it makes it seem both less and more likely for this job (really, plinth, really?). This is not a peasant tool. Not with the decoration on it unless the owner was the maker and was really bored in the winter. Strikes me more as a gent's tool, if it is one. Maybe it was used for post and beam construction to trim and pound pegs, but I would think that mallet and chisel were more likely tools for that job. I feel that tool is more likely than weapon.

Let's assume decorative/ceremonial. It certainly fits in the category of decorative since it appears to be lacking on the functional side. Someone went to a lot of effort to make it look nice and it would be showy from a distance. It's not huge so it wouldn't weight you down too much. It looks impressive enough without actually being too dangerous. It doesn't seem all that decorative though. I would expect more in the way of animal heads or inlay. I feel that is possibly decorative.

So I'd put it at maybe 60/40 tool/decorative.
posted by plinth at 9:47 AM on February 17, 2012

So I'd put it at maybe 60/40 tool/decorative.

This entirely depends on context, and is why an expert needs to have a look at this thing.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:51 AM on February 17, 2012

I vote for some sort of weapon head or gardening spade.
posted by DisreputableDog at 11:31 AM on February 17, 2012

I was going with tool myself - the way that the "handle" has a small notch on one side (on the end of it) seems to indicate that it is meant to be held in a hand. However, it's too small for an adult-sized hand (unless that coin is really huge). So perhaps the dented area in the handle was holding something else - perhaps a leather strap? But if that was the case, why all of the fancy artwork on the "handle", that would have been covered by a strap?

I really wish I'd gone into archaeology.
posted by Elly Vortex at 11:33 AM on February 17, 2012

French military farriers axe?
posted by DisreputableDog at 11:37 AM on February 17, 2012

Could be the 2nd business end of this type of flintlock pistol. I have one at home.
posted by elgilito at 11:38 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm an archaeologist but not a European one. I know this seems a stretch, but the first thing that came to my mind was that this thing is ancient. Compare it to the images of Neolithic/Bronze Age "axes" which are carved onto the standing stones of Stonehenge (link), which brings up images like this Bronze age axe, that is not dissimilar.

With that as even a remote possibility, it is possibly very rare and of a lot of archaeological interest.
posted by Rumple at 12:13 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is the square end of the handle closed, or open like something else could have gone in there (a wood handle maybe)?
posted by marylynn at 12:26 PM on February 17, 2012

Compare the sinuous/scalloped, almost rosette-like decoration of your artifact to this Bronze age example. I'm getting more inclined to think you've got a Bronze age axe head, namely around 3,000 years old. I posted to some archaeologists on twitter so will see if anything comes of that.
posted by Rumple at 12:32 PM on February 17, 2012

No expert, but I think that's properly old. Dark ages, maybe. Do the decent thing and get it looked at by an expert. And please! - report back on what it is?
posted by cromagnon at 1:09 PM on February 17, 2012

Sorry dbarefoot, no helpful answer. For the people deeming the age of the object, what is the likelihood something that old would be lying in a field? We don't know if the OP's friend was digging there, so assuming it was found on the ground, is that plausible? Totally unqualified and genuinely curious here.
posted by therewolf at 2:53 PM on February 17, 2012

If it was a plowed field, entirely possible. It's a very common way of finding such sites in the first place. Equally, activities like tree-throws, badgers, ditchdigging, etc can bring stuff to the surface. And, while perhaps the majority of the surface is accumulating organic material and getting thicker (surface of ground is rising) in some places it can be deflating, especially in places with strong winds and damaged vegetation.
posted by Rumple at 3:58 PM on February 17, 2012

We don't know if the OP's friend was digging there, so assuming it was found on the ground, is that plausible?

Possible and plausible, definitely. Probable, not so much, but plenty of things could have pushed that to the surface. My instinct is toward the ancient end of things, too, and to see something that well-preserved, it would probably have been buried in a grave-- but, again, this is something a specialist needs to determine.
posted by oinopaponton at 4:00 PM on February 17, 2012

Mr Ruki thinks it's a sort of farming tool. An old trench-digger, or something for herbs.
posted by Ruki at 6:30 PM on February 17, 2012

I doubt if it's an ulu, but it does look like some sort of scraper to me.

(voting it's not horse equipment related)

Please do let us know if you find out. If it's something way keen, do a FPP on the subject of.... ;)
posted by BlueHorse at 9:56 PM on February 17, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions. We'll definitely try to find a local museum or expert to evaluate the object, and I'll post back here when and if we get some solid answers.
posted by dbarefoot at 1:24 PM on February 18, 2012

I was at a French flea market today and happened to see something which reminded me of your object. It was a Moroccan sugar hammer like this. North Africans still tend to buy their sugar in unrefined blocks. Sugar was sold this way throughout Europe until sugar lumps were invented. Since sugar was rather an expensive ingredient the sugar hammer would be the tool of a gent.
posted by rongorongo at 12:37 PM on February 25, 2012

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