Thursday, February 1, 2018

Bracers of Budakalász (HORVÁTH, 2017)

In this paper Horvath examines stone equipment from the large Budapest cemetery, Budakalász, which lies on the West bank of the Danube in Hungary.

A number of stone items are interpreted as plausible metal-working equipment, including these large river pebbles with a straight groove.  A case is made that these were used to manufacture pins of sorts, either by casting, shaping or polishing.  One artifact shows evidence of what may be hot shaping from burn marks and the uniformity of the examples are noteworthy.

Cold molds or polishers? (snip, fig 5)

Most interesting is the take Horvath has on the functional use of the wrist guards.  He notes that most of these in Hungary, despite being located on the lower left arm, are actually placed on the outside of the arm rather than the inside.  Horvath makes this comment:

"Perhaps the wrist-guards were also used to sharpen the daggers (the copper’s hardness is 2.5–3 on the Mohs scale: since wrist-guards are harder, they could have been used for this purpose)"
I don't believe I've heard this particular argument before and it does make a lot of sense if the use-wear analysis supports this hypothesis.  Previously, I assumed these bracers were rotated to the outside of the arm when they weren't being actively used, but that really doesn't help much if they were set in a cuff.  Several streams of circumstantial evidence do suggest that many were only part of a larger cuff assembly.

Snip from fig 9
Like the other authors who have written on the topic of bracer placement (Folkens, Smith, Turek), putting percentages to the exact position of these bracer stones on arms doesn't have a clear answer because as Horvath notes, many of the Beaker graves were excavated before quality dig records were made and before this was a topic of interest.

Since copper is rather soft, blade edges would need to be re-shaped frequently.  The magnified micro-edge of the blade would tend to curl after several uses and this is essentially what curved honing steels do for modern knives. 

Finally, you can see that in fig 9 that some bracers were repaired after what should have been throw-away time for looks or any practical use as a bracer.  But they are still valued after repeated corner brakes.  Several other characteristics are worth a second look, like the fact that they are about the length of a blade and that these items die off with the emergence of bronze!?

"The stone implements and wrist-guards of the Bell Beaker cemetery of Budakalász (M0/12 site)" Vjesnik Arheološkog muzeja u Zagrebu, Vol.50 No.1 Prosinac 2017


  1. Since the bracers are harder than the copper blades, the primary evidence should not be wear of the bracers, but rather copper deposited on the bracers. If they were used in this way, the copper should be there, and it should be fairly easy to detect even if its corroded and oxidized.

    1. I don't think that type of analysis has been done yet. It'll be interesting to see the result when it's done.

  2. If I were working a blade, I wouldn't want to do it on the back of my wrist. First, I lose the use of one hand. Second, the stone would wobble on my wrist while I worked the blade. Third, the blade might slip off the stone and cut my hand or arm.

    Here's a thought: many years ago, I was at a big public celebration where much drinking was going on. Two young men looked like they were going to fight, when one pulled out a knife. The other immediately stepped back, pulled off his belt, and wrapped it around his left wrist. Could these bracers have been used as dagger shields in similar situations?

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    1. You might try the calculators at gedmatch. That's a better way to match. Either way if you are North European a very significant amount will be CWC, you might give your results to Davidski (for a small fee) and he could tell you something more exact

    2. Yes, I gave the data to Davidski and I'm less than 16 %ANE and over 59% Western Hunter Gatherer. He told me, you have a lot of Forager in you! I match modern day populations in the Orcadians, English Kent, Scottish Argyll and English Cornwall.

  4. These resemble "shaft abraders" used by Native Americans to shape arrow shafts.

  5. Beakers used shaft straighteners or polishers throughout their regions, but these items are described as being needle-sized. I believe I've associated the correct graphic, but in any case the pebble stones, or at least one of them, corresponds to a copper needle found at the site. (Hopefully the author meant needle and not awl) Most of these papers are written by non-English speakers so sometimes things get lost in translation, but in any case there was copper evidence in the pebble.