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Thread: Ancient Roman Projectile Points

  1. #1

    Ancient Roman Projectile Points

    Hi All,

    Some of you may have seen ancient roman arrowheads advertised on various auction sites. Based on appearance alone some appear to be fake, however the majority have a patina or corrosion buildup that make me believe they are indeed authentic ancient pieces. They can often be had for a little more than a song so I have purchased a couple lots. As is often the case with a lot of items dug from the ground I ended up with a couple examples that are very severely deteriorated. I decided to use these to do some simple tests on them to get some indication of the authenticity. Below are the test subjects:

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    The first step was to remove the heavy corrosion. I did this with the wire wheel on my bench grinder. After this step they looked like this:

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    For now I have focused on just one of the samples. The other will follow.

    Next I needed to create a good surface of bare metal. When I started into the sanding I found that this piece had a significantly thick layer of black oxide which I assume is Fe3O4. I need to do some more reading on how this oxide would from and why I could be seeing such a thick buildup on a piece like this. Below is what the start of the sanding looked like. You can see the spots of bare metal shining though the black oxide.

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    Because of the think oxide layer I had to resort to some faster grinding equipment to get down to the bare metal. Once this was done I took the piece though the following sanding grits to give a polished surface: 220, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 2000. Here is what the polished piece looked like:

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    After the polish was done I cleaned the piece and submerged it in ferric chloride for about 2 hours.The ferric chloride was cold and did not etch as deeply as I expected however the grain did come out in the etch. I plan to perform another etch to this piece to see if I can bring out the grain more. Here is the arrowhead after the first etch:

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    From this I can see that there is significant variation in the steel. There are also weld lines and inclusions or weld faults.

    That's where I am at the moment. I will update with more details as I keep going. I have only basic test equipment, but if there is anything that anyone would be interested to see done to these samples please let me know.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Newcastle, NSW, Australia
    They certainly appear to have been made from bloomery steel using traditional techniques. There is no way to tell whether they are Roman without knowing where they were found and in what context.

    I like what you are doing with them and look forward to further updates.

    One suggestion would be to perform a spark test. It is quick and simple and will give you an additional data set to work with.
    Last edited by Dan Howard; 12-05-2017 at 01:47 AM.
    Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen and Sword Books.

  3. #3
    I've seen a lot of things shaped like the right-hand object, but never an excavated arrowhead. I suspect it's a 19th century drill bit of some sort. There is always that ring at the junction of blade and tang, and there is always a tang whereas most broadhead arrow points seem to be socketed (though I may be misremembering on that!). People seem to forget that when they kick up something pointy and old that there was an awful lot of iron pointy things being made LONG after the middle ages! And that's not counting the outright frauds flooding the market.

    Good luck with the testing!


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Bucks County, Pennsylvania
    Apart from the ring, it does look quite similar to a point found at Persepolis. A number of early iron arrowheads were tanged, and if paired with hollow shafts like reed or bamboo, I think there are some advantages to a tanged point.
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  5. #5
    Hi all,

    Sorry about the hiatus. Year end work and the Christmas rush absorbed all of my forum posting time. I did however get a chance to further etch the point and to do a quick spark test. the pictures are below.

    These first two pictures show the raw etch surface after just over 24 hours in the FeCl3. This was probably longer than I should have left it, but it did bring out some nice grain in the steel. unfortunately that grain is hard to see in these pictures because of the very dull surface texture.
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    After taking a few pictures I went over the surface with some 2000 grit to bring out the texture for this picture. The grain of the steel is quite course as you can see but there is a definite direction to the gain. This is consistent with what I would expect from something wrought from bloomery steel. I would love to hear any other opinions on production method and steel type if there are any.
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    After I got what I could from the etched surface I did a crude spark test with my angle grinder and flapper disk. The first picture appears to have a high carbon content, while the second shows dark straight sparks consistent with low carbon content. This makes me think that there could be pockets of high and low carbon steel within the point but it is hard to tell if this was partially due to the pressure I was applying or the angle I was grinding at. At the very least I can say there appears to be portions of this piece that have a high carbon content.
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    Regarding the shape of the second object, a drill bit is definitely a possibility but at the moment I am still leaning toward it being a projectile point. It actually does appear to have the remains of a collar, but the pictures above do not show it well. I also have a couple other point with a similar geometry that are better preserved. I will post a few additional pictures when I have a chance on Monday.


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