Whether we attribute it to the juggernaut success of the HBO television series Game of Thrones and its constant references to Valyrian steel and forging metal, there seems to be a recent revival of interest in ancient forms of weaponry and weapon making. One could even argue that a franchise has been born. In 2009 the largely successful Deadly Warrior popped up, a program devoted entirely to great warriors, and their tools of conquest, from history.
Handmade weapons are almost entirely the main focus of a series titled Forged in Fire which is broadcast by the History Channel. The program is a competition where competitors “…use sweat, fire, the force of will, and a well-equipped forge to turn raw material into authentic, fully functional implements of war.”
Kpinga Throwing Knife
The show, which is also a kind of virtual tour of various historical eras, has featured some episodes this year which focus on a single weapon alone. Most memorable was the kpinga, a throwing knife which has three blades of various shapes, some resemble a razor-sharp dagger, and others more like a sickle. This weapon, which originated in Central Africa, is something between a dagger and a ninja star.
The weapon is attributed to the Azande tribe, also known as the Zande, who originate in Ethiopia but were most active in present-day Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Known for their war tactics and military prowess, one can be sure that the weapons proved indispensable in piercing the flesh, shields or even armor.
The History Channel even devoted a portion of the episode to contestants throwing the weapons at two different angles—overhead, and sidearm—and at different speeds, from a distance of about 30 meters, to show viewers how the weapon would have been used in the distant past. Most valuable, however, is that since these weapons were handmade, by seeing the finished product on the program, viewers can see the objects in their original glory. A 3D model or digitally-enhanced replication simply would fall short of capturing the weapon one would argue.
If one were to view the weapon, from the Iron Age (lasting from roughly 750 B.C. to 43 A.D.), in the museum, the environmental effects on the quality of the objects would be certain: the weapons have been seriously flattened and dulled over the years. Few examples, if any exist of objects as impressive as those created on this program.
While we allow the archeologists, anthropologists, and historians to debate issues of preservation—and to be honest, they are complex and involve a number of biological and chemical factors which affect an excavation both before and during contact with humans, or even oxygen—these programs are offering an interesting peek into history, from periods where the entire material world was created solely from human labor and human efforts.