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"Modeling the Dreaded Skraeling/Algonquin Ballista" Topic


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Grelber02 Dec 2010 7:54 a.m. PST

Winter is coming on here in Colorado; we've already had a couple light snows. My Vikings would rather not continue their campaigning in Iceland and Norway, where it is probably even colder. In lieu of any historical evidence of Viking campaigns in Florida, I've decided to settle for fighting the Native Americans aka Skraelings in Newfoundland, in Canada's banana belt. 8^)
Now, here's what a translation of Eirik's Saga has to say about one of these battles:
When they clashed there was a fierce battle and a hail of missiles came flying over, for the Skraelings were using catapults. Karlsefni and Snorri saw them hoist a large sphere on a pole; it was dark blue in colour. It came flying over the heads of Karlsefni's men and made an ugly din when it struck the ground.
There are a couple footnotes:
First, that the sphere was about the size of a sheep's stomach according to one version of the original text.
Second that the catapult has been compared with the ballista which ancient traditions of the Algonquin Indians describe.
Searching the Internet adds a few useful bits: the text mentions the Skraelings approaching in their boats waving sticks anti-clockwise (when they came in peace, they waved them clockwise). One writer points out that there are no records of Native Americans using boats larger than canoes, so this was a relatively small device. Somebody suggested it might be similar to a jai alai stick. Another, apparently after consulting the 1851 book that mentions the Algonquin tradition, says that stones were sewn up in leather wrappings. In an attempt to find out the size of a sheep's stomach, I learned that the record for haggis hurling goes to a chap who threw a 1.5 pound haggis 180 feet 10 inches, back in 1984 and that the rumen, the fourth chamber of a sheep's stomach can hold 5-10 gallons, and if we count all four chambers, we could be looking at 7.5 to 14 gallons. For those of you in metric lands, this works out like this:
1.5 pounds =.68 kilograms
180 feet 10 inches = 55 meters (Record javelin throw is 98.48 meters, for comparison)
5-10 gallons = 19-37.8 liters
7.5-14 gallons = 28.4-53 liters
So, has anybody out there ever modeled or made such a device? Any ideas as to what it might look like? Could it be a "crew served weapon," wielded by two or three guys? I wondered if it might be something like a Byzantine staff sling, not that I've figured out quite how they work. Does anybody have any experience with them? Why would anybody bother to wrap the stone in leather and sew it up? Would the common Scandinavian translation issue of ‘blue' really meaning ‘black' apply here?
While I'm trying to approach this lightly, I really would like to field a couple of these to go with my Skraelings.
Grelber

Nappy2938802 Dec 2010 8:01 a.m. PST

You need to talk to Harry Haggis.He is well informed.
John

Mick in Switzerland02 Dec 2010 8:31 a.m. PST

I think that you are looking for a tension trebuchet similar to the Thessalonica Machine of 597 AD. The Vikings are thought to have had them at the siege of Paris.

Man Powered Beam Sling on a Trestle Frame
Offensive machines are often depicted with a wooden frame. Sometimes this resembled the trestle frame of a later trebuchet. Sometimes this was pyramid shaped and covered in planking and hides to protect the firers. Slavs and Avars used 50 such beam sling machines (tension trebuchets) each with 20 pullers at siege of Thessalonica in 597 AD. These were built into pyramid shaped wooden shelters covered in fresh hides. The hides were added during the siege to protect against fire arrows.

Here is an article that I wrote in 2005. Inventive Steps in Trebuchet Evolution.

link

Regards

Mick

Mick in Switzerland02 Dec 2010 10:10 a.m. PST

Medieval drawing of the Thessalonica Machine of 597 AD.
link

Diagram to help make a model
link
Mick

CooperSteveOnTheLaptop03 Dec 2010 2:56 a.m. PST

Oh I had fun & games trying to figure out what this was a few years back. I found a book that cited an illustration (fig. x, pg y')in a C19th book on native Americans, so I ordered it on inter-library loan. They then explained I could only look at it at Leicester Library. When I got there they literally blew the dust off it and it was about the size of a safe, original 1830s tome. I looked for the promised page & just got a lot pictures of pottery. Or beads or something. the cited material just didn't exist. Then they must have shipped the massive ancient book back to wherever it came from. Must have cost the library system a fortune.

Bill Lucas reckoned it was a foot bow.

Grelber03 Dec 2010 7:45 a.m. PST

Mick,
I joined The Hurl, and read your article--good stuff! The need to transport the device in a canoe quickly limits my choices to one (staff sling) and two (man powered beam sling on a pole frame), and a variant of three (man powered beam sling on a trestle frame--a small, light weight frame in this case).

Looking back at the size of a sheep's stomach, we're talking about hurling a rock the size of three five gallon gas cans/jerry cans (huge, Monty Python killer sheep) or even one five gallon gas can (normal, timid sheep I see out grazing). Yeah, I'm a spindly-armed desk pilot, but there is no way even Conan is going to get something like that airborne using a staff sling! Besides, the Vikings would have been familiar with staff slings, and not spooked by them.

You show slings at the end of all the poles. These effectively extend the length of the pole, giving you more leverage and greater range. They also hold the projectile. It strikes me you could put a harness on the rock, and slip that onto the pole. Not as effective as the sling, but a possible answer to my question about wrapping the stone in leather.

Lots to think about here!

Cooper Steve:
My initial thought was that the interlibrary loan people wouldn't trust me with a book that old. Sounds like, even if they had, it would have been pointless. Thanks for the information!

Grelber

CooperSteveOnTheLaptop03 Dec 2010 8:22 a.m. PST

Interlibrary loan is perilous thing. i ordered a volume of papers on the first Jewish revolt thaty Allen recommended & it turned up from a Manchester university library telling me that the little book was priceless & if I lost it I would be hung up & skinned & my children fed to crocodiles before my eyes.

ironically for something so irreplaceable no-one had ever borrowed it since '97.

Mick in Switzerland03 Dec 2010 8:28 a.m. PST

Dear Grelber

I made several 28mm scale machines. I found that with small scale models, it is much easier to add string to the projectile than to try to make a sling. Simply drill a hole in the projectile and tie a thread through it.

Mick

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