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General >> Project Goliath - The History of The Sling >> Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
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Message started by Plumbata on Aug 21st, 2017 at 11:18pm

Title: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Plumbata on Aug 21st, 2017 at 11:18pm
Hello! I'm new to the forum but have been a collector of ancient martial artifacts since 8th grade, or a bit over half my life at this point. Watching "The Gladiator" ignited an obsessive interest in at first Roman, and then Neolithic through Medieval warfare-related artifacts and ancient coinage. Building and practicing (playing) with weapons including slings goes hand-in-hand with collecting the real-deal, though I'm sure any of the men that once used the items I hoard would smoke me in 2 seconds flat, hah.

One of the sub-collections is sling bullets, with unusual or inscribed examples being most interesting (as one would expect).

While we know that ancient bronze bullets were made and used on occasion, particularly in Cyprus, I'd like to share with you all a particularly special and rare bullet I obtained recently (and inexpensively) from a metal-detectorist/seller of authentic artifacts and coins including regular lead bullets, also found in Cyprus like my 2 solid bronze examples.

As I recall, I had only ever read about the existence of bi-metallic bladed sling bullets and had certainly never seen a picture of such a nigh-legendary artifact, but finally I owned a superb example of an item I never actually expected to find or be able to afford.

Hopefully the attachments work, first there is an image of the special bladed bullet with 2 other Cypriot bronze bullets, then multiple views of the bladed bullet. It may seem strange that the bronze portion is orange, almost looking more like rusty iron, but that is just the soil/clay encrusted to the green patina, which shows through in a few small areas if you look closely.

What strikes me is the exquisitely deadly symmetry and craftsmanship, indicating that it was manufactured by a true master that would likely only be afforded by (or for) the most skilled marksmen. Really breathtaking compared to the typical blunt lead bullets. I'd love to know what the bronze portion looks like inside the lead as it clearly took skill to cast, but unless my house burns down I'm not likely going to find out, hah.

It is 58.05 grams and almost exactly 40mm from end to end.

What I'd like help with is finding relevant documentation regarding bladed sling bullets; I don't remember if it was on the internet 10 or 15 years ago and long gone, in a book or article I've forgotten the name of, or somewhere else but I've spent hours scouring Google with no success and it's been exceptionally frustrating. I'll happily repay any efforts with pictures/details regarding other inscribed or noteworthy bullets in my collection. :)
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Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by kicktheotter on Aug 21st, 2017 at 11:41pm
Wow. That looks it could do some damage. That's a pretty amazing find. Someone needs to recreate it. It would really interesting to see how it moves through the air.

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Mersa on Aug 22nd, 2017 at 3:00am
Great stuff

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Thearos on Aug 22nd, 2017 at 3:43am
Forgive my ranting. As an archaeologist, I disapprove of private collecting of objects circulating on the market without provenance because they have likely been produced by destructive uncontrolled excavation. That also holds for metal detectorists. (it also produces the collector mentality "since I paid for this, it must be beautiful", "exquiite craftsmanship on this piece", that distorts our knowledge of the past and reduces it to baubles rather than whole societies)

That said, a lot of these sling bullets are found without context anyway

But that said, having them found and sold this way means that we potentially lose a lot of info. For instance, if they were found in caches we might date them; if they're found in places we might relate them to specific campaigns or battles; if plotted on the ground we might relate them to battle tactics (as in the famous find of ugly sling bullets from Vetren, where you can see lead used at very short range and concentrated fire); if they're found in context we can actually say something about production. I.e. the more provenanced examples we have of this "flying saucer" type (which I remember seeing in the literature, perhaps published by Ino Nicolaidou in the 1970s), the better our specific, non-speculative knowledge will be.

There, I've said it. I have posted on this before and apologize, again, for the rant.

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Thearos on Aug 22nd, 2017 at 5:36am
Another problem is also that the antiquities market is full of fakes. Collectors buy fakes, and fakes get into the archaeological record.

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Plumbata on Aug 22nd, 2017 at 12:51pm
Thank you all for the comments!

I studied in the field of Historic Archaeology here in the states, but 2 factors discouraged pursuing a doctorate: I determined that such a career wouldn't be as remunerative as what I do in my spare time, and I learned to my great dismay that the post-doctoral "professionals" couldn't tell the difference between an "Iron Pontil" and an Owen's machine scar on the base of a bottle (among other things), and considering that discarded bottles and jars are of great utility in the dating and interpretation of sites in the USA, such ignorance destroyed whatever faith I might have had left in the education I would receive at that university and I decided to just collect and appreciate all the artifacts I could get my hands on without regard for the nearly universal opinion that only those professionals are qualified enough to handle and interpret the residues of history. I'm certainly not condemning the field or genuinely talented practitioners and I do wish you the best, but have made my decision.

That said, I agree that the destruction of edifices and necropoli (as in Bulgaria) in search of ancient treasures is heartbreaking, but the items I collect are essentially all "everyday" items found by detectorists in woods and fields; not fine ceramics, jewelry or art looted from graves. While theoretically erosive to the potential corpus of archaeological knowledge, unless funding is obtained to turn half of the landmass on earth into an archaeological dig 99.9% of those detected items would remain buried until they completely rotted away.

And fakes are an enormous problem for collectors, though many archaeologists interpret the prevalence of fakes as a buffer against the further looting of archaeological resources, as the money spent on garbage isn't being spent on the authentic items. Essentially all of the "legionary" roman rings, inscribed fibulae, stone seals, figurines and amulets are fakes, and probably 3/4 or more of the stone, bronze and iron artifacts are outright fakes or purposefully misidentified for profit, so I've learned to avoid many dealers and classes of artifact like the plague and develop relationships with honest sources. I do feel sorry for all those getting duped, but at the same time that means there is less competition for the genuine articles. I can't prove anything to y'all but I've been collecting antiques and old coins since age 5, started selling them at 11, and expanded to ancient European items at 14 so over time have developed a pretty solid and nuanced instinct regarding such things.

For those interested in collecting sling bullets, be exceptionally careful of inscribed examples coming from Spain, as there are many forgery workshops there churning out fakes; some more deceptive than others. Do your research and if it "smells fishy" it's best to avoid it. Never implicitly trust the dealer/seller and go by your own "empirically-informed instinct" instead.

Anyway, the "Ino Nicolaidou" lead is a helpful start, thank you! Here is a very interesting bullet from Bulgaria, inscribed with† what I presume to be the bust of a (Corinthian?) helmeted soldier with exaggerated nose-guard, facing left. I haven't found any documented examples of people depicted on bullets so it's quite unusual. 31.43 grams, 29mm long.

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Plumbata on Aug 22nd, 2017 at 12:57pm
Wow those images are huge my apologies, let's try that again:
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Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Curious Aardvark on Aug 22nd, 2017 at 1:58pm
yeah would appreaciate it if you could resize them a bit.
800x600 (ish) works best.

If you don't have anything simple to use, scroll to bottom of first post here: http://slinging.org/forum/YaBB.pl?num=1258292684
and download photo resizer.

If you've got a mac - you've got my sympathy, but no clue on resizing programs :-)†

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Thearos on Aug 22nd, 2017 at 1:59pm
I'm sorry to hear you didn't pursue a PhD based on the fact that you had specialized knowledge-- no one knows everything...

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Curious Aardvark on Aug 22nd, 2017 at 2:05pm
so you think the image on the stone is deliberate and ancient ?
Could just as easily be caused by random breakage.

I can see someone going to the trouble putting bronze blades inside lead - that's serious armour piercing.
But why would you spend hours putting a picture of a soldier on a single sling bullet intended for battle  ?
When that time would be better spent making more sling bullets.

Given that a skilled slinger can easily throw 10 shots a minute. More stones would be more valuable than really pretty ones.

Doesn't make a lot of sense. 

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by kicktheotter on Aug 22nd, 2017 at 2:24pm
Well were they actually used in battle? Similar to ornate swords not actually being intended for use in a battle but for ceremonies, gifts, presentations etc. could the more ornate bullets just be to put on the mantelpiece?

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Plumbata on Aug 22nd, 2017 at 2:42pm
Just for clarification, the bullet with the helmeted bust is made out of lead and the design is raised/embossed, so while it may have taken hours to carve the mold it was cast in, casting multitudes of them would have taken no more time than the regular plain bullets.

As I understand, the inscriptions would either convey information that would express the identity of the shooters and their origins or commanders to the enemy forces, or insult/taunt the enemy. I'd suspect that the person depicted expressed some sort of autobiographical information. And yes, they would most certainly have been used in battle.

To further illustrate the casting process (you've read about the cast "trees" of bullets") here is a text-only example showing a very obvious offset casting sprue. I don't know Greek but based on my toying with internet "ancient greek keyboards" and online translations the text on the first side may translate to "Cereal" or a "(Kernel of) Grain" which suggests a taunt of some sort. I could of course be completely wrong and happily invite any corrections or insight. 27.25g, 29mm.

And I'll try to edit the gigantic images with more reasonable ones, don't want to hog bandwidth.  :)
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Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Morphy on Aug 22nd, 2017 at 3:12pm
Interesting... Armor piercing, certainly harder and sharper than just a lead glande.  The one thing I really dont get though is the shape. How is this a beneficial shape for a sling projectile? All of this flatish almond cross-sectioned bullets make no sense to me.

The ones Ive made were inferior to the typical bullet or biconical shape in practice. I wonder if there was some other advantage we dont know about.

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Plumbata on Aug 22nd, 2017 at 3:35pm
I have no idea about any perceived advantage, maybe it could be placed in the pouch and released in such a way that the bullet would spin on the same plane as the blades (shuriken style). Maybe the flatter sides would allow for fine-tuning of its placement in the pouch to allow for a football-style spin upon release, whereas the biconical ones would just roll to the center. My skills are lacking in this department so it's all just loose speculation; maybe it's just another example of their lack of familiarity with the principles of aerodynamics.

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Curious Aardvark on Aug 23rd, 2017 at 7:53am
okay - looked like stone not lead :-)
That also explains the shape - lead glandes deform on impact.


It is interesting that most ancient glandes are slightly flattened.

If they were intended for close to medium quarters engagement - say 50-150 metres. Then it makes sense.
The flattened shape will make a lot more noise in flight, it will also make a much larger hole in the victim.

Both traumatic and psychological benefits for the attackers.

And at short distances (yes 150 metres is short for lead glandes) you won't lose any velocity due to the shape.

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by jlasud on Sep 8th, 2017 at 1:29pm
Long time ago ,I made one. It's better shaped ,and would perform better.Maybe wouldn't make that much noise.
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Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by jlasud on Sep 8th, 2017 at 1:29pm
Different view
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Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by kicktheotter on Sep 8th, 2017 at 1:36pm
Wow looks nice. Have you tried it out?

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Mersa on Sep 8th, 2017 at 3:40pm
Fun

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Plumbata on Sep 9th, 2017 at 9:22am
Absolutely wicked, thank you for sharing your creation! Was there a document or reference you based the design off of?

Not quite related, but in the Spanish "Museum of the Sling" website that was posted on the site (many lovely ancient glandes that had me drooling), I saw this bimetallic iron/lead biconical bullet of Pompey. The regular inscribed bullets used by his forces are not rare finds, but this one was particularly interesting:



http://perso.wanadoo.es/hondero/proyectil30.html

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by kicktheotter on Sep 9th, 2017 at 9:29am
Does the iron go all the way through the glande?

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Plumbata on Sep 9th, 2017 at 11:00am
The museum's page doesn't seem to specify, but the lead body was clearly cast around the iron portion (instead of having the iron inserted afterward) so my assumption is that it was a solid single spike with the pointiest bits now rusted away. The right-hand side shows some slight impact-deformation to my eye. Another interesting example of improved or specialized sling tech.

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Morphy on Sep 9th, 2017 at 12:37pm
Definitely a deadly looking piece there. This seems like a piece made for "termination with extreme prejudice."

I wonder if only the highest level slingers recieved such ammunition?

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Plumbata on Sep 19th, 2017 at 12:31pm
So here's an interesting sling bullet with an embossed triskelion; a symbol widely used in antiquity but when paired with a bullet my hunch is that it is from either Aspendos in Pamphylia or Selge in Pisidia, neighboring regions in Asia Minor both renowned for their highly talented mercenary slingers. The coin is a 10.58g silver stater from Selge 250-300 BC (Aspendos put out essentially identical staters) where their pride in their slingers was made quite apparent. bullet is 28.36g. I have no proof but prefer to believe that the bullet and coin make a pretty cool set.† ;)

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Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Plumbata on Mar 5th, 2018 at 11:52pm
Well, a combination of luck and persistence paid off! I encouraged the detectorist in Cyprus that I obtained the first bullet from to ask his friends and search around his own accumulations for more bladed bullets, with the promise of double what I paid for the first bullet for each additional one. This motivated him to rummage about and find 1 damaged but nice and informative one in his collection (which he didn't charge for, a freebie for the ages!), and go buy 2 more undamaged examples from his detectorist friends for me. The first one is lovely but having another 3 is that much more useful for research and extrapolation.

Here are the weight and length measurements, top one is the original bullet, 58.08g, 1.623 inches/41.22mm. Center left is 61.20g, 1.544 inches/39.22mm. Center right is 66.15g, 1.641 inches/41.68mm. Bottom example is apparently missing a good amount of lead from one side, 44.39g, 1.675 inches/42.55mm. The bottom one is unusual, and as it (and the other 2) is still rather dirty some careful cleaning ought to reveal whether it was an incomplete cast (or an incomplete cast that got cold and then was filled up but the extra lead didn't adhere), perhaps partially melted away after getting launched, or had the lead shear off in some other strange manner. I don't see much evidence of it just having been mushed and deformed. Cleaning this one might provide valuable insight regarding the structure of the blade component. I'll keep y'all updated!
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Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Thearos on Mar 7th, 2018 at 2:22pm
Alas, this sort of activity depletes the archaeological record: no date, context, or secure information. Frankly, I think this is a shame.

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Plumbata on Mar 7th, 2018 at 3:00pm
Understood, it would be much more useful if the items carried with them relevant contextual information, but for what it's worth the source stated that they were all found in disparate locations on the island; apparently corroborated by different patination/encrustations. Regarding dating them, there isn't anything archaeologically relevant to reference when they are singular items scattered in fields/rocky wastelands. Just like old coins detected in the wilderness, they themselves are about all the context that exists.

I found this thread, "A "winged" lead glans? DONE!" http://slinging.org/forum/YaBB.pl?num=1328017619/1 with academic/museum references to the bladed bullets from Cyprus, do any of these professional sources present the date, context, and secure information regarding the items? My professor wife may have institutional access to the articles but I do not, I'll need to enlist her assistance soon but you yourself quoted one of the articles and may be aware.

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Bill Skinner on Mar 8th, 2018 at 10:13pm
I don't know anything about the colors of bronze oxidizing, but as bronze is mostly copper, shouldn't the patina be some shade of green or blue green?

Second, those bronze cores are awfully uniform for individually made items, aren't they?

And third, if they were found at several different sites, they seem awful uniform for items made by different people at different times.

If those were stone artifacts, my guess is that they would only be a couple of years old and were artificially aged in manure that would be kept moist with urine.  Just sayin'.

I would ask Theros' opinion on whether or not he thinks they may be modern.

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Plumbata on Mar 8th, 2018 at 11:56pm
Thanks for your thoughts! Generally the fine green carbonate patination occurs in moist environments, but in more arid environments bronze often gets a dark oxide patina, as is the case with 3 of the bullets and millions of bronze coins and artifacts from that region of the Mediterranean. One bullet appears to trend more to the green, but it is encrusted and as-yet uncleaned.

The primary diagnostic regarding authenticity is the condition of the lead. Lead oxidizes very slowly and it is supremely difficult to artificially age lead items, at least convincingly. These pieces have a very thick pale oxide rind, which has become fragile and cracked and even broken off in chunks as though it were a brittle mineral specimen in some spots. It would take much more than a few years, or indeed a few hundred years in urine-soaked manure or the like to accomplish this. You will see what I mean in the attached images.

I believe that 2 bullets may have been from the same workshop, the top and center right examples, but it is difficult to say. Perhaps there was only ever 1 workshop responsible for the manufacture of all the bullets, which were then distributed and lobbed at hapless enemies all over the island. The blades were certainly cast in molds, so while there were likely different mold sets, the superficial uniformity is to be expected, as in the case with "Scythian" bronze arrowheads mass-produced by the millions with many mold-matched points points being found.

I spent nearly 4 hours very carefully cleaning the bottom example, and I now am of the opinion that the blades are not necessarily joined in the middle, but likely separate "D" shaped blades, with the straight post securing the blades on/in the lead within the body, and the curved blade portion being hollow to allow molten lead to enter and firmly secure the blades in position on either end. The blades were painstakingly hammer-hardened and possibly crimped slightly into the lead body during finishing, after casting the lead body around them. The 2 center bullets appear to have been cast with an excess of lead, surrounding the portions of the bronze blades proximal to the core instead of being cast flush, as with the top and bottom of the 4. These clearly took a great deal of time, skill and energy to produce relative to the common lead bullets.

I'll probably sketch some of what I'm trying to convey, and would be happy to provide additional photographs. Also, I think the cleaning job worked out very nicely in revealing more information about manufacture, and the stark contrast between dark bronze and light lead is simply lovely. This one was the best candidate for cleaning but I may try cleaning 1 or 2 others.


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Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Plumbata on Mar 10th, 2018 at 9:19pm
After conducting the aforepictured cleaning it appeared likely that some of the internal bronze structure was lurking just below the lead oxide crust on the damaged side, and could be exposed with a bit more cleaning. The question of the structure of the bladed portion has been bothering me more than it should, and now I'm satisfied that the mystery has been mostly resolved.
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Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Blindsquirrel on Feb 5th, 2023 at 12:23pm
I like this shape, Iíve made a clay one and got it in the oven baking. Iíll make a silicone mold of it so I can cast some cement bullets in this shape to test with my others. I like the thin edge should leave a good mark.
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Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Blindsquirrel on Feb 6th, 2023 at 4:42pm
Got my first one out of the mold. It should weigh in around 55grams when finished drying, this one is made from rockite. One made from the quikrete should weigh between 60-65grams. Iím going to let them cure for a day or so and then put them to the use and get some slomo video of them in flight to c how they strike the target and what damage they do🤞
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Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Mersa on Feb 7th, 2023 at 4:04am
Nice work, Iím very interested in this shape. Looking forward to your feedback

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by Blindsquirrel on Feb 7th, 2023 at 6:24am
Weather looks good for today so hopefully Iíll have some footage later today to post up.

Title: Re: Rare ancient Cypriot lead sling bullet with bronze blades, need help!
Post by stoneslinging on May 1st, 2023 at 4:08am
that's absolutely fascinating, what a find!

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