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Thread: BA swords and shields

  1. #1
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    BA swords and shields

    Well, any of you guys who play with swords and shields etc will think this postmay sound to be stating the obvious, but heh, most text books have it otherwise

    Myself and a coupleof friends at last got around to testing some replica bronze European BA shields I made up. OK, they were not aesthetically completely accurate as I am no smith myself, but they were functionall accurate insofar as they were the correct materials and manufactured in the correct fashion with hammering and annealing etc. I made one example from 0.9mm copper, one from waxed leather and one from 1.5mm 10% tin Bronze (bloody expensive stuff!!).

    To date, the only articles dedicated to shields are one by John Coles, the best known one, and one by Stuart Needham which was more of a catalogue update (but his discussions were excellent). Coles wrote in 1962, and his article is still cited as being the key study on this topic, his conclusions still being passed on. Problem is that he tested a 0.3mm copper shield, whcih not so surprisingly was cut to shreds. He said that these shields were not backed with leather ever.

    Well, the ones I used were the same thickness as one more typically finds in European BA shields. The copper one was covered for one half of its back with sole-leather, the good tough stuff. I based this on the Lough Gur shield which was found with a leather like substance clinging to its back, Coles wrote this off as being peat (it had beencleanedoff before his day), but in fairness, I think that even antiquarians could tell the difference in peat and rotten leather... but that's just my opinion. It makes sense that they would have augmented these shields as best they could,and leather is not that hi-tech. Anyway, I digress!!!!

    The copper shield, even without the side without the leather stood up to severe bashing from the Bronze Age Foundry Irish Class 4 BA sword. It started to bend a bit towards the end, but that was from blows being deliberately struck directly onto the rim, of course in use these shields would be usedina much more 'live' sense. The only problematic area was the boss, which after several direct blows began to cave in and was hurting the users hands (wearing leather gauntlets and all). So we could be fairly certain that some padding was used for sure in reality. Spear trusts didn't penetrate it either, the shield kind of moved with theimpact to deflect most thrusts (single handed). A replica BA javelin that I got from Irish Arms penetrated the shield with part of the blade part, not the socket, so the user was quite safe from these also. The long Witttenham shield from England has similar holes in it, so it appears this element has historic parallels.

    I don't know how much bashing Coles' leather shield was subjected to but he was satisfied with it, my also one remained quite resilient indeed. The problemwe found was that repeated bashing in the same half of the shield resulted in degredation, so that by the end of it (well over 40 direct hits to the outer limits of the shields diameter) the shield was starting to bend with the blows and the sword was likely to reach the shield bearers arm with a blow. It was extremely resilient to both spear and javelin shots, the latter could pierce it as above, but did not go fully through. There is no evidence for a wicker super structure, in fact the opposite, so we can assume that these shields may have been re-waxed or discarded as in-expensive pieces after a battle, but they certainly seem that they would suffice for a single encounter.

    Now for the Bronze Bad Boy!! Well, in a word it worked. The sword hardly nicked it, but again made some slight impression on the boss. Spear and javelin bounced off it, perhaps a more experienced or stronger user could have got them to penetrate, but I doubt they could get the socket and shaft to follow through. So any suggestions that these shields are non-functional is in fact completely and utterly wrong. There may have been ceremonial examples, but some were certainly functional.

    Another remark is that both sword and shield are extremely fast. These were lethally quick weapons, I managed 2-3 tight-arced slashes with the sword per second! So axe like they ain't!!

    Moving briefly on to Mycenaean stuff, I had replica of a Post-Trojan war (LH IIIC to those who read about this stuff, basically the very last bit of the Bronze Age) shield based on images from a vase from Mycenae and bronze discs from Kaloriziki on Cyprus. Credit to Matt Radford for this suggestion, but we figured that the notch in the shield (the W bit) may have been held to the side, allowing the spear to pass cleanly through unimpeded by the shield. Worked really well!! So we may be looking at a primitive form of Hoplite warfare over 400 years before it emerged properly in the Aegean.

    Ok, enough chitter chatter, better move on and do some work or something.

    PS Thanks also to Ciaran F from this forum for his help with the testing, and if any of you guys are from Ireland, we're going up to Roche Castle in Louth for a bash around on Saturday, followed by a party in am unsuspecting mates gaff nearby!!!
    "If your bayonet breaks, strike with the stock; if the stock gives way, hit with your fists; if your fists are hurt, bite with your teeth" (Dragomiroff, c.1890)

  2. #2
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    Excellent post, Barry! Thank you!

    A couple questions, though. What were the sizes (length, width) and weights of the various shields?
    "Courage is fear holding on a minute longer."--Gen. George S. Patton

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    Ah yes weights... haven't done that yet, tell the truth they are jsut upstairs but I am too bloody lazy to do it now, how crap am I!!!!! Will do tomorrow, but they are approx 45cm in diameter, the bronze one can't be much over 750 gramms, if that, the copper one is only about 3-400 gramms.

    Best,
    Barry
    "If your bayonet breaks, strike with the stock; if the stock gives way, hit with your fists; if your fists are hurt, bite with your teeth" (Dragomiroff, c.1890)

  4. #4
    Ah, plain good old testing to see how things really work, instead of some guy behind a dusty desk making up theories. Great job! Just a few questions: What kind of copper alloy did you use, and what amount of hardening did you apply to it? Same on the hardening for the bronze shield. Is there also any info known on the hardness of the real shields?

    I'd personally expect thin metal shields, with a high level of hardening to be able to take the most beating. Because of their thinness they'd flex a lot on impact, decreasing the severity of the impact, and spreading out the impact load over a large area. A thick, stiff shield would take the full blow in a very small area. A high level of hardening would result in the shield being able to bend close to breaking point, without permanent deformation. This tactic has been very successfully tested in Robot Wars by the Napalm team

    And finally, where are the photos?

  5. #5
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    Brilliant!

    Two questions:

    Is there any way to get this result into the literature, at least as a presentation? As you noted, Coles has been misleading people for 40 years, and it is time there was some progress in this area.

    I don't quite follow the last bit about Mycenaean shields and the "W". Would these be the shields of the "Warrior Vase" which are held by the marching soldiers with an indentation at the bottom (i.e. kidney-bean shape)? Or is this another shield type?

    Pictures would be most helpful.
    NEM. PERV.T QUI N.N LEG.CERT.RIT

  6. #6

    Re: BA swords and shields

    Hello Barry,
    Wonderful stuff this! I agree with Felix that if possible, the results of your reconstruction and use experiments should be published, at least as an article here.
    I have made waxed leather ( over shaped wood ) examples of six Bronze Age shields - Clonbrin ( my favorite ), Cloonlara, Pilzen, Auchmaleddie, Lough Gur and Athenry ( there are photos of the Clonbrin and Lough Gur on Matt Amt's Bronze Age website ). I admire john Cole's work and used both his book "Archaeology by Experiment" and his paper "European Bronze Age Shields." as a starting point in making my reconstructions, though i never tested mine. Even with tapering the wooden shield body from about 12 mm in the center to 6 mm at the rim of the shield, the Lough Gur shield is a beast at about 8 - 10 kg.
    I am actually interested in how you annealed a large sheet of 1.5 mm Bronze and what form/mould you used to shape it and the tools you used. I made my moulds from concrete ( my basement looks like a clearinghouse for strange birdbaths ) and whereas this works, they are inconvieniently heavy -about 300 lbs for the Lough Gur.
    The fact that the Copper and Bronze shields held up very well in testing does prove that not all Bronze Age shields made of sheet Bronze were votive deposits. I do remember reading that the Lough Gur shield had some form of backing and at the time wondered if a backing of leather moulded to the Bronze facing would make these shields usable. I would think that in the shields that have the hand grip riveted directly to the Bronze facing sheet, that these are most likely to be votive shields. Even this is questionable if the metal thickness is 1 mm to 1.5 mm.
    Only a few more questions. First - what did you make your hand grips of and how did you attach them to the finished shield? Did you rivet directly though both leather and Bronze? Or did you sew a piece of tongued over leather to the backing leather as in the Clonbrin shield?
    And, did you fold the bronze over the edge of the leather backing to form a seamless rim and if so , how did you do it and what tools did you use?
    I was also glad to hear that the Bronze Age weapons handle well and fast, though i prefer Type or Class 6 swords ( purely aesthetic reasons ) #544 from Eogan's catalogue comes to mind and i love spears with Lunnate openings.

  7. #7
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    I was only an observer in this little get together but I learned more from these few hours about the real use of bronze age weapons and how effective they really are!!!!!

    The only way to appriciate them is to actually go and give it hell for leather in a controlled way. I can tell you barry was really really belting these shields as hard as possible and there was really really very little damage.

    Barry is really an archeologist who is and will continue to change peoples opinion of how effective weapons but not with words or theories but with hard facts gotten through use of the weapons and continuous experimentation. Everytime he shows me something Im amazed. So yea...theres an academics opinion, an academics informed opinion and then theres barrys opinion.


    He doesnt take praise well, esp from me but always credit where credits due...Barry knows what he is talking about and when he tends noot to tell me stuff but rather show me stuff. For example the boss of the copper shield. He made teh copper shield and after some extreme bashing teh boss started to cave in. We discussed this and figured that the user would probably have padded the inside of the boss with linen or something as without it the shield wasnt as effective and it would be simple to do. There isnt any evidence as linen wouldnt have survived but it makes perfect sense when you actually use the shield. Right or wrong its a theory born of use and experimentation. There was no way of knowing this type of thing without actually having a guy standing there holding teh shield and bashing at it with a bronze age weapon. things only come to light in context. And most importantly the experiments are also an awfull lot of fun.



    Watch this space


    Ciaran

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    Re: Re: BA swords and shields

    Well, I have a rotten hangover at teh moment, just out of bed at nearly 2 o'clock, but I will make sure to put a more detailed post with photos on before I go away again.

    Briefly though, as mentioned, I wasn't going for aesthetically perfect pieces, I wanted the shape to be correct and the piece to have the requisite hammering, I will make prettier ones now for conferences etc, but didn't want to put the time in to that in case they disintegrated immediately, never know till you try. But my pieces were quite close and had the requisite heating hammering and so on. I just used a camping gas stove beneath the piece and a blow torch above to get the anneal, took a while on the bronze but very short time on the copper. Used leather sand bag not a mold, so the edges to the straight line aren't that pretty. I can see a mold working ok for the copper, but the 1.5 mm bronze would be a bitch to hammer to shape from a sheet. I think they may have been partially cast to shape before final working. The Long Wittenhan shield has a solid (as opposed to bent over) rim, which can't be achieved (at all easily) by forging bronze, make much more sense to cast them. But I'll tell you this, they must have been some strong fellas doing this, my arm was in tatters after making these.

    Will post further on this when head is not splitting...

    PS, anyone from Britain, that conference I was talking about in December is a go! Its in Lampeter, will be featuring Jon Coulston on Roman weapons, John Clements on Medieval, and John Carmen on something about the warrrior identity + plenty more. Will hopefully be publishing the proceedings, but that will be about a year or two down the line.
    "If your bayonet breaks, strike with the stock; if the stock gives way, hit with your fists; if your fists are hurt, bite with your teeth" (Dragomiroff, c.1890)

  9. #9

    Thank you!

    Bravo, Barry!
    All the way through the book "Bronze Age Warfare" by Osgood, Monks, and Toms, I was frothing. EVERY bronze shield or piece of armor was passed off as a "parade" item, "too thin" to be effective. And yet they quoted thicknesses of a millimeter frequently, the same or thicker than many Roman bronze or brass items. How the heck did folks in the Bronze Age have time to fight when they were doing all these bloody parades?

    I am SO glad you have put those myths firmly to rest. Now all we gotta do is tell the rest of the world! (And get O., M., & T. to do a second edition!)

    Much obliged,

    Matthew

  10. #10
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    Re: Re: BA swords and shields

    Originally posted by Steven Peffley
    Hello Barry,
    Wonderful stuff this! I agree with Felix that if possible, the results of your reconstruction and use experiments should be published, at least as an article here.
    I have made waxed leather ( over shaped wood ) examples of six Bronze Age shields - Clonbrin ( my favorite ), Cloonlara, Pilzen, Auchmaleddie, Lough Gur and Athenry ( there are photos of the Clonbrin and Lough Gur on Matt Amt's Bronze Age website ). I admire john Cole's work and used both his book "Archaeology by Experiment" and his paper "European Bronze Age Shields." as a starting point in making my reconstructions, though i never tested mine. Even with tapering the wooden shield body from about 12 mm in the center to 6 mm at the rim of the shield, the Lough Gur shield is a beast at about 8 - 10 kg.
    I am actually interested in how you annealed a large sheet of 1.5 mm Bronze and what form/mould you used to shape it and the tools you used. I made my moulds from concrete ( my basement looks like a clearinghouse for strange birdbaths ) and whereas this works, they are inconvieniently heavy -about 300 lbs for the Lough Gur.
    The fact that the Copper and Bronze shields held up very well in testing does prove that not all Bronze Age shields made of sheet Bronze were votive deposits.* I do remember reading that the Lough Gur shield had some form of backing and at the time wondered if a backing of leather moulded to the Bronze facing would make these shields usable. I would think that in the shields that have the hand grip riveted directly to the Bronze facing sheet, that these are most likely to be votive shields. Even this is questionable if the metal thickness is 1 mm to 1.5 mm.
    Only a few more questions. First - what did you make your hand grips of and how did you attach them to the finished shield? Did you rivet directly though both leather and Bronze? Or did you sew a piece of tongued over leather to the backing leather as in the Clonbrin shield?
    And, did you fold the bronze over the edge of the leather backing to form a seamless rim and if so , how did you do it and what tools did you use?
    I was also glad to hear that the Bronze Age weapons handle well and fast, though i prefer Type or Class 6 swords ( purely aesthetic reasons ) #544 from Eogan's catalogue comes to mind and i love spears with Lunnate openings.
    * Italics mine to highlight the sentence to which I am responding.

    Steve, and I say this withsome trepidation after watching a couple of your weapons demonstrations, you state very clearly what others imply, that these test "prove that not all Bronze Age shields made of sheet Bronze were votive deposits." While they certainly strongly support that conclusion, I am not certain that you can say that they "prove" anything other than that Barry's shields withstood Barry's efforts to cut through them. What this indicates is another thing, but what it "proves" is really quite limited. Or am I being too damned pedantic for my own good here?
    Trying to walk in the Light, Hugh
    See 1 John 1:5

  11. #11

    Re: Re: Re: BA swords and shields

    Originally posted by Hugh Fuller


    * Italics mine to highlight the sentence to which I am responding.

    Steve, and I say this withsome trepidation after watching a couple of your weapons demonstrations, you state very clearly what others imply, that these test "prove that not all Bronze Age shields made of sheet Bronze were votive deposits." While they certainly strongly support that conclusion, I am not certain that you can say that they "prove" anything other than that Barry's shields withstood Barry's efforts to cut through them. What this indicates is another thing, but what it "proves" is really quite limited. Or am I being too damned pedantic for my own good here?
    It depends on how close his shields are to the original ones IMO. From a mechanical viewpoint there are a lot of factors involved other then the obvious shape, thickness, metal alloy that determines just how good the shields/swords are, and in some cases, a slight difference can completely change the results. So to make a good scientific comparisson, all these factors have to be included, and where there are differences, describe exactly what those differences are and how perhaps quantify their influence on the results. Just to eludicate my viewpoint, I'm not an archeologist or swordfighter, but I'm a mechanical engineer. So things like how those swords would exactly be used is a bit unfamiliar terrain for me. But what happens when a piece of metal like a shield or sword is loaded with a certain force on a certain area, and what happens to it is right up my alley If I ever get the chance I'd like to set up finite element model of a BA sword, and see what rolls out of the PC. But that will have to happen when I've got some time to spare at work (not happening soon).

    Anyway, I'm off to Denmark, paradise of anything bronze age. Back in 9 days

  12. #12
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    Hi Barry,

    Have you attempted to reconstruct one of the shields described in the Iliad?

    Homer's shields are depicted as being circular [5.796-7, 13.157, 13.405, 13.715] and made of multiple layers of oxhide with a sheet of bronze as facing [17.492-493]. Teukros had a shield of four layers of oxhide [15.479], and Hektor’s shield is described as circular and “fenced deep in skins, with a great fold of bronze beaten upon it” [13.803-4]. These shields are described as “knobbed” [7.267, 11.260], and “massive in the middle” [11.457], suggesting some sort of shield boss. Butler actually uses the word 'boss' in his translation. Hektor’s shield was definitely circular [11.61], and almost as tall as he was since, when worn on his back, the rim “clashed” against his ankles and neck [6.117].

    What I'm not sure about is whether the shield was held by a central handgrip or strapped to the forearm.

  13. #13
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    Will post piccies etc tomoz!

    BUt Re: homeric shiels the tower and figure of eight shields in surviving BA images certainly do reflect the shield of Ajax, and some other Homeric references such as Boars Tusk helmets are accurate 'memories'. The fresco from the West House at Akrotiri on Thera (Santorini) shows the tower shields in use in a sort of 'shield wall' affair.

    Jeroen, do you ever get the 'Journal of impact engineering?', a chap called Henry Blythe wrote an article about the penetrative power of Bronze points through various thicknesses and hardnesses of sheet bronze. Good article, but lots of scientific equations that are Double-Dutch to me!

    To quantify my data somewhat, I will be getting some hardness tests done on my pieces, and will be seeing what comparative data there is, maybe even get to take a test on some original BA pieces. Unfortunately, as stated by others, experimental archaeology is always going to be subjective to a degree. However given the internal variability in sword hardness, design and the same with shields, the tests that I carried out are going to be reperesentative of the technological capacities of BA weaponry, there may have been superior examples, and there may have been inferior examples out there, but given the materials and production process, my pieces are mechanically within the parameters of what was available in the Bronze Age. I think what they do prove is that 1.5mm 10% tin Bronze shields were potentially suitable for real combat and do not necessarily have to be ceremonial ritual.

    All that can be done during experimentation is to make replicas that are as mechanically accurate as possible, test these in as non-biased a fashion as possible, and after this try to quantify the data as far as possible using comparative and scientific methods. This is the only practical avanue open to the archaeologist. I am not a fan of Machines simulating strikes with weapons, as they don't allow for the dynamics involved in a real blow, and the test pieces are not free to respond to the variety of forces involved in a real blow.

    BM
    "If your bayonet breaks, strike with the stock; if the stock gives way, hit with your fists; if your fists are hurt, bite with your teeth" (Dragomiroff, c.1890)

  14. #14
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    Out of curiousity, Barry, do you have a copy of "Metallurgical Reports on British and Irish Bronze Age Implements and Weapons in the Pitt Rivers Museum"? Lots of good information in that regarding composition, dimensions and hardness of various weapons. No shields, unfortunately.
    "Courage is fear holding on a minute longer."--Gen. George S. Patton

  15. #15
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    Hi Brock,
    Yup I got a copy of that, and lent it to Andrew, the guy with the Dedra reproduction, the day after I bought it (on a dusty shelf in London for £4!!), I read it before, but haven't been able ot refer to it in a while. It is quite old-fashioned in its approach, but is still one of the best sources on the mettalurgy. I have also read Sue Brigfords PhD thesis, she told me it will be out in BAR publication in a year or so, but it is chock full of analyses of BA swords and spears. Really fantastic source to get your hands on when it comes out.

    Got those weights as well, and my estimetes were a little out.... D'oh! The bronze one is 1.7 KG, the copper is 0.9KG. Nothing too heavy, only a little heavier than the swords really. I am going to try and publish it in Archaeology Ireland, but they are a little 'closed circle' I have been led to believe, but have to see how that goes. Whether which way, when I write it up properly, I'll give SFI a copy as well as an article.

    The smaller bosses on this shield large rivet heads on the original, I bossed them out on this version to give the piece the strength you get in shields of this form (as seen in Coles' article), and its design is well within the expected historical design parameters. I will put some more time into making one aesthetically accurate next, but don't imagine I will attempt to trash it in the same manner!!
    Attached Images Attached Images  
    "If your bayonet breaks, strike with the stock; if the stock gives way, hit with your fists; if your fists are hurt, bite with your teeth" (Dragomiroff, c.1890)

  16. #16
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    Originally posted by Barry Molloy
    I have also read Sue Brigfords PhD thesis, she told me it will be out in BAR publication in a year or so, but it is chock full of analyses of BA swords and spears. Really fantastic source to get your hands on when it comes out.
    I would certainly be interested in a copy or two of that particular BAR publication.

    You paid less for your copy of "Metallurgical Reports" than I did. I got mine on line through alibris.com from a bookseller in Montana. Don't ask me how a copy of it ended up there--must have had something to do with one of the colleges. The metallurgy is way over my head, but it is a treasure trove of other information I can make sense of.
    "Courage is fear holding on a minute longer."--Gen. George S. Patton

  17. #17
    Originally posted by Barry Molloy
    Will post piccies etc tomoz!
    Jeroen, do you ever get the 'Journal of impact engineering?', a chap called Henry Blythe wrote an article about the penetrative power of Bronze points through various thicknesses and hardnesses of sheet bronze. Good article, but lots of scientific equations that are Double-Dutch to me!
    I haven't got it, but if you need any help with it, I'll see what I can do (no promises that I can, but I can at least try)


    To quantify my data somewhat, I will be getting some hardness tests done on my pieces, and will be seeing what comparative data there is, maybe even get to take a test on some original BA pieces. Unfortunately, as stated by others, experimental archaeology is always going to be subjective to a degree. However given the internal variability in sword hardness, design and the same with shields, the tests that I carried out are going to be reperesentative of the technological capacities of BA weaponry, there may have been superior examples, and there may have been inferior examples out there, but given the materials and production process, my pieces are mechanically within the parameters of what was available in the Bronze Age. I think what they do prove is that 1.5mm 10% tin Bronze shields were potentially suitable for real combat and do not necessarily have to be ceremonial ritual.
    Something else I've been wondering, even if some shields are too thin to be effective (some of the shields I just saw in Copenhagen were paper thin!), that still doesn't take away the fact that they could have been used in battle very effectively. Not as defensive weapons, but for the scare factor. I mean, bodypaint doesn't protect you any more from sword blows, but it can give wariors an edge above the enemy. Just imagine a bronze age warrior, dressed up in bronze armor plating, bronze helmet, huge bronze shield and bronze sword or spear, shining in the bright sunlight. That must have terrified any poor BA farmer. I can imagine a chieftain all dressed up in bronze, going into battle, surrounded by his subjects doing the actual fighting. Demotivating the enemy is something that has been used throughout history, and I see that being omitted in a lot of books on prehistoric warfare. My two cents


    All that can be done during experimentation is to make replicas that are as mechanically accurate as possible, test these in as non-biased a fashion as possible, and after this try to quantify the data as far as possible using comparative and scientific methods. This is the only practical avanue open to the archaeologist. I am not a fan of Machines simulating strikes with weapons, as they don't allow for the dynamics involved in a real blow, and the test pieces are not free to respond to the variety of forces involved in a real blow
    That's the way to go. Great work, and thanks for the photo

  18. #18
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    Excellent experiment!

    Has it been published? And where? I'd like to read the article and show it to my colleages. Let's stop Coles's misleading!

  19. #19
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    shields etc.

    Hi,
    This testing is mentioned in brief in a chapter on Irish BA swords in a book that I edited, entitled "The Cutting Edge: Archaeological studies in combat and weaponry", which is due out in the next few months. Details can be found on amazon.co.uk presently.

    B
    "If your bayonet breaks, strike with the stock; if the stock gives way, hit with your fists; if your fists are hurt, bite with your teeth" (Dragomiroff, c.1890)

  20. #20
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    Here's a direct link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cutting-Edge...4607170&sr=8-1

    Will it be available from you directly as well?

    Good thread btw. Nice to see it revived.

    And welcome to the forums Pavel!
    Hwæğere şær fuse feorran cwoman
    to şam æğelinge. - Dream of the Rood


    "Ah, Blackadder. Started talking to yourself, I see."
    "Yes...it's the only way I can be assured of intelligent conversation."
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  21. #21
    Greetings,

    I think it is about time I give my congratulations! Excellent work, and your publications will definately be on my "to-get" lists! Cheers!

    Best regards,

    Barrett Michael Hiebert

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