Shields made of bark
May 25, 2019 2:55 PM   Subscribe

According to Julius Caeser, the Gauls had "shields made of bark or interwoven wickers, which they hastily covered over with skins." But no bark shields from the period have ever been found--until now.

A unique bark shield, thought to have been constructed with wooden laths 2300 years ago during the Iron Age, has provided new insight into the construction and design of prehistoric weaponry. The only one of its kind ever found in Europe, the shield was found south of Leicester on the Everards Meadows site, in what is believed to have been a livestock watering hole.

The shield, which measured 670 x 370mm in the ground, is unique, the only bark shield every found in Europe. It was carefully constructed with wooden laths to stiffen the structure, a wooden edging rim, and a beautiful woven boss to protect the handle. The outside of the shield was painted and scored in red chequerboard decoration.

Initial thoughts that a bark shield would be too fragile for use in battle were turned on their head by initial experimental work which showed that the shield could stand up to heavy impacts from blades and arrows. A bark shield, although not as strong as a solid wood or metal shield, is much lighter, allowing for speed and movement.

Although we know that prehistoric people used bark to make bowls and boxes, this is the first time we have seen the material used for a weapon of war. Most of our known examples of complete, or partially complete, Iron Age shields were dredged from rivers in the 19th century – such as the Witham Shield from Lincolnshire, or the Battersea and Chertsey shields, both dredged from the River Thames. These tend to be of metal construction and were probably the facing for wooden board shields. Other, incomplete shields have been found in ‘warrior burials’, whilst further evidence comes from shield miniatures, artwork and sculpture – the Glauberg Warrior from Germany and the Gundestrup Cauldron from Denmark, for example. Shields made entirely of organic materials survive less frequently, usually in bogs, such as the hide shield from Clonbrin in Ireland, or the wooden board shields from Clonoura (Ireland) and the Hjortspring Boat in Denmark. All info in the post from one of the above links.
posted by flug (15 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:11 PM on May 25

So bad ass
posted by nikaspark at 4:16 PM on May 25 [2 favorites]

So glad to find out they weren’t barking up the wrong tree this whole time.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:00 PM on May 25 [7 favorites]

Very cool!
posted by stoneweaver at 5:41 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

That 3D model is ridiculously neat-o!
posted by darkstar at 6:33 PM on May 25 [2 favorites]

These shields are amazing, but they just call to mind once more how incredibly screwed almost any ancient army was going up against the well-trained, well-equipped professional soldiery of the Roman army.
posted by darkstar at 6:37 PM on May 25 [8 favorites]

Saw this mentioned in the Grauniad the other day. Half-blew my mind but as a layperson I was hoping for more context. Thank you for more context!
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 7:00 PM on May 25

Shield of bark
doot doo doo doot doo doo
Shield of bark
doot doo doo doot doo doo
Shield of bark
doot doo doo doot doo doo
Shield of bark
posted by Mister Moofoo at 7:19 PM on May 25 [10 favorites]

posted by Pastor of Muppets at 7:58 PM on May 25 [12 favorites]

Neat! I'm glad the first link had reconstruction photos because the picture of the shield found in the ground had me wondering what it could have looked like in its prime (and in awe of the level of expertise needed to even realize a dark bit in the ground is actually an historic find and not just a weird rock).
posted by DyRE at 8:26 PM on May 25 [9 favorites]

This is so cool!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:42 PM on May 25

It's so cool when finds like this happen, confirming the written record and giving physical evidence of how things were done back before we could record them like we do now. Wonderful!
posted by xingcat at 7:27 AM on May 26

I love the experimental archeology where they recreate the artifacts.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 1:02 PM on May 26 [4 favorites]

I kinda take the whole idea of shields for granted from fantasy and video games, but if you really think about a big guy waving even a knife or a baseball bat at you, much less an actual sword or an axe, you can maybe imagine how desperately you'd want to have something like this to hold between you and him, no matter what it was made of.
posted by straight at 8:05 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]

(unless maybe you think about how much faster you could run away if you dropped it)
posted by straight at 8:05 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]

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