Sunday, June 12, 2022

Humanejos Heavy-Use Halberd (Garrido-Pena et al, 2022)

Here's the only Iberian halberd deposited in context as part of the warrior package.  It's context is discussed in "Atlantic Halberds as Bell Beaker Weapons in Iberia: Tomb 1 of Humanejos (Parla, Madrid, Spain)"

Although quite a few halberds are found in scattered and wrecked contexts, it's rare to find in a grave.  It may well be that elite tombs were more susceptible to plunder and vandalism and so halberds might be under-represented for that era.  The authors point out that halberds were Europe's first metal-conceieved weapon.

The weapon below appears to have been repaired many times after impact.  The first indication is that it was re-hafted several times due to blunt force.  The most recent hafting involved substituting a nail for a rivet.  Clearly it was not a letter-opener.


Close-up of replacement nail and use-wear

Tomb 1 is located near Madrid and features a man and woman.  The tomb had an entrance and was not filled in, so the woman's body had already decomposed before her husband (?) was laid to rest.  Her body was "scooted over" and the authors suggest the ivory buttons from her vestment might have been collected in hand to her pot.

While it is clear she was buried first, the man radiocarbon dates older even though it is clear that they both decomposed in the tomb itself.  I may revisit this issue in a subsequent post.  In any case, she is buried with women's gear and he is buried with warrior gear.


There's several things that come to mind with halberds.  One is that they may be indicative of social rank, perhaps as part of a social division of arms (Meller, 2017).  At the same time, these weapons were used a lot and the use-wear suggests more than (Horn, 2017) some domestic chore like punching holes in domestic cattle skulls.

Reverse-engineering needs requirements takes us to an interesting place in Beaker warfare.  We have long-range weapons (at least two types of bows), a personal space and dualing fighting weapon (daggers), beyond arms length offensive/defensive weapon (the spear or javelin).  And then we have this weird, centrifugally accelerated, blunt force weapon.  Why?

I think it's probably an indication of primative armor and sheilds.  Of course armor of that time would have been boiled leather and probably quite effective.  The real question is that if a halberd is nothing more than a dagger on a stick, then why position it at 90 degree angle?  Without the need for penetrative force, there is no advantage for killing someone extra.

Use-wear and common sense point to a rotation plane, something like an axe or hammer.  That means a halberd point is approaching a victim with multiples of speed and force than would be required if we are simply dealing with defenseless, naked humans.  It's like shooting someone with a bazooka.  Is shooting someone with a bazooka as effective as a rifle?  Yes, same result I guess.  But we would correctly suppose that a high-cost, single-shot, shoulder-fired weapon like a bazooka was developed to bust armor.

As was the case throughout the Medieval Period, it may have been the elite or professional warriors who wore armor while commoners were outfitted modestly.  So there are several scenarios in which Beaker halerds may have been used.  Armored warrior elites against armored elites.  Anyone versus armored warrior elites.

If all the above is true, we have a new problem.  Being equipped with a Palmela point makes sense if we are dealing with a warrior on foot who can punch a spear beyond arms length.  But this warrior is equipped with both a halberd and two points.  I doubt the mourners just threw a bunch of man stuff into a grave.  Could it be that the Palmela point (having no barbs mind you) was specifically used in equistrian combat?  Similar weapons were used in the Medieval period simply for punching sorry souls on the ground by mounted warriors.

And finally, another clear example of a "bracer" that fell off the outside of a decomposing arm.  I think at this point we can safely say that these are not actually bracers but an exterior (or sometimes interior) backbone of a larger bracing cuff.  Maybe this was to protect the wrist from injury to to relieve stress on the lower arm.  Who knows.


  1. I'm glad you're back.

    I told you the halberds of Humanejos and Hungary are one more proof of the Iberian migrations to the eastern domain of the BBs (as well as the horse with Iberian blood and some mitochondrial markers).

    1. Couldn't it have been the other way? Or maybe two way traffic? Or from a third source or sources? Or something more complex that is not yet known? You always discount thinking about other possibilities way too quickly and are way too certain about your own ideas. It's not bad to present a theory but it's never a good idea to jump to conclusions or to be so obsessed that you don't properly consider other possibilities.

  2. Great to "see" you back Bell. Missed reading your blog.

  3. Good to see you back I missed your posts!!
    Did they have boilable leather back then? It was my understanding veg tan came Abt in the iron age and back in LN/EBA they would have had softer hides like smoke tan or brain tan. I think rawhide especially with hair and membrane left on would be more likely and still quite effective AND still very weak to halberds. I also think wood armor (at least cardiophylax of wood) is potentially something we even have evidence for. Woven rope armor perhaps could have existed but it doesn't show up ethnographically terribly often so I'm not sure how likely. I imagine your average person may have just worn a brain tanned moose hide or cow hide "war shirt" as appears many times convergently in cultures with similar tech and warfare styles. They are very effective at catching arrows (especially when not belted down. I have a lot more to say Abt this and a lot of evidence to go on but my point is I think you're very much on the right track with halberds being anti armor. they also would be incredibly effective defensively when held in front of you which is an angle many haven't considered yet. It can fight against spears well due to the huge hook and big surface area to defend with, but also is a short enough weapon to be used like a shillelagh in shorter range. It can decimate daggers (range), axe-hammers/clubs/axes/etc (speed), spears (defensive capacity and easy ability to close) and bows (I'm rich so I have armor.)

    I do however think that halberds are literally useless against someone with a shield due to the same surface area that makes them beneficial against spears. So far in my work w it I've found small round shields ridiculously effective against halberds and very little way around it. Worthy of note shields appear right as halberd disappear, 2000 BCE.

    My only caveat with armor is that warrior stelae in west and east alike depicted with full kit loadout are still usual naked (kernisovskiy, many french stelae) or just in clothes (sion, lunigiana stelae, many french stelae) so perhaps they had a cultural taboo in which armor was for pussies?

    1. Bell's posts, but of course! I'm just a fascinated lay reader. I'll just go back into silent mode. Cheers.

  4. Or rather, there at least potentially was said taboo in the late neolithic. Perhaps the pragmatic beakers said "you guys are dumb" and wore armor and by the time people agreed and caught up it was too late? Either way, very interesting to see such a well loved halberd, see it in a burial, and see it with two Palmela points.