In History's Forged in Fire world-class blade-smiths compete to re-create some of the most iconic edged weapons from history. There are however a whole host of blades, ancient and otherwise, that are probably never going to make it on to the show, not least because some of them aren't even made of metal. Welcome to the world of some history's weirdest swords, daggers and bladed weapons.
Set Your Teeth on Edge
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Dating from the early 20th century, our first weird blade might not be the oldest, but it's a pretty nasty looking one. The Gilbert Islands are a chain of sixteen atolls and coral islands in Micronesia in the Pacific Ocean. On these islands shark tooth weapons have been made and used for countless generations; spears, daggers, and even “tebana” - shark-tooth knuckledusters. Kept in the Ethnographic Collection of the University College London is a three pronged shark-tooth sword from the Gilbert island of Kiribati. More than a hundred pierced shark teeth are held in place on the three prongs of coconut wood with twine made from coconut fibre and human hair. The three chainsaw looking blades would have made for a fierce weapon in combat but luckily it is thought to have been ceremonial, a relic of a bygone age when the island tribes were at war with each other.
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Used by the indigenous American Apache tribe as late as the 19th century, Jawbone Clubs were bone-bladed weapons made from half of the lower jaw of a horse, or buffalo, or sometimes even a bear. The teeth were kept in the jaw but this was more to make the thing look more fearsome – the lower, curved part of the bone would be sharpened to a keen edge, a woven or leather handle added for grip. The Jawbone Club would be wielded in close quarters, swung like an axe to chop into an opponent's chest. Open wide and say ARGH!
Running with Scissors
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The form of dagger known as a Katar was popular in Southern India between the 14th and 17th centuries. A katar dagger has an H-shaped horizontal hand grip, held in the fist so that the blade sits above the user's knuckles and effectively gives them a bladed punch. Once the katar fell out of favour as an actual weapon it began to take on a more decorative and ceremonial role – even being used in acts of worship. At the same time however, variations of the original weapon began to be created, as much for the European collectors market as anything else. By the 18th century some katar had single shot pistols built into them, designed to deliver a point-blank kill shot once the stabbing was done. Not very sportsman-like. More popular still was the scissor katar. Two or three blades which folded together, appearing to be one, until a trigger in the hand grip was pulled and they folded out into a claw-like formation. As nasty and cool as this looked it was completely impractical for fighting – a mere fantasy concocted to amuse and amaze the westerners.
Image source: Historyrundown.com
Originating in what is now southern India and Sri Lanka, possibly as early as the third century BC, The Urumi is not just a weird weapon, it's a really nasty one too. It is considered one of the most difficult weapons to master due to the risk of the wielder injuring themselves and its use is therefore taught last in Indian Martial Arts. Although it has the hilt and cross-guard of a sword, the Urumi's blade (or blades) are not rigid but flexible and may be almost six foot in length. The Urumi is effectively a metal bladed whip. Worn around the wielder’s waist like a belt, the handle in the position of a normal sword, the Urumi is a weapon that can be used against multiple opponents – lashed around in a great circle, protecting the entire perimeter of its owner.
More than Just a Lantern Holder
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Originating in 16th century Italy, the Lantern Shield was a kind of Swiss Army Knife of weaponry. Firstly you have a small circular metal shield with a hook protruding from it from which a lantern could be hung. So far so defensive but there's more. Instead of a mere strap to hold onto behind the shield you have a metal gauntlet, and in the knuckles of that gauntlet are blades – long, sword blades. Then how about another sword blade on the leading edge of the shield, and then maybe a barbed blade sticking straight out of the centre of it too? This is all just for your left hand/arm, obviously, leaving your right hand free to wield your actual sword. This wasn't designed for heavy warfare however, it was for Renaissance dualists. They loved their gadgets in the Age of Reason, but it seems like it might have been a fair bit bloodier than many of us imagine it.