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It seems to have passed through more hands than The Maltese Falcon. And it’s proving to be nearly as mysterious.
Two pieces of iron armor — reportedly first found in the desert of West Texas about 150 years ago — have recently been analyzed by scientists in Nebraska, where the artifacts have been sitting for decades in museum storage.
Archaeologists have been able to determine that some of the armor’s components are at least 200 years old, but details about who made it, who wore it, and where exactly it came from remain a total mystery.
“I don’t know where this thing came from,” said Dr. Peter Bleed, a University of Nebraska archaeologist who led the study.
The few records of the armor that exist came from U.S. cavalry officer and anthropologist Capt. John Gregory Bourke, who was given the gorget, helmet, and a breast- and backplate in 1870, from an army doctor who claimed to have found them “enclosing the bones of a man in the arid country between the waters of the Rio Grande and the Pecos.”
Bourke took the armor with him from post to post throughout the West during his career, losing the breast and backplates to thieves in Arizona along the way.
But before his death in 1896, Bourke gave the helmet and gorget to a judge’s wife in Nebraska, and by the early 20th century, it was in the possession of an Omaha attorney, in whose family it remained until it was donated to a museum in 1961, and then to the state historical society.
Historical records describe the equipment used by Spanish soldiers at that time, but the team found that it included little armor, the Spanish instead having used mostly padded leather or shirts of chain mail.
“It just is not very much like armor known to have been used by colonial Spanish forces,” Bleed said of Bourke’s armor of iron scales.
“The Spanish apparently had some (chain) mail, but the idea of taking a fabric and attaching little fish scales to it, this is not something they did.”
There, analysis revealed that the iron in the armor contained unusually high amount of slag — impurities like clay, quartz, and other non-metallic rock.
This high slag content is the signature of an early smelting process known as bloomery, and it’s further evidence of the armor’s age, the team said.
Bloomery was obsolete in the U.S. and Europe by the early 1800s, having been replaced by more refined smelting techniques. So the amount of bloomery iron being produced in the U.S. and Europe was “minuscule” by the middle of the nineteenth century, the team noted.
“I was surprised that there was a lot of cotton in the armor along with pre-blast furnace, or bloomery, iron in the armor,” Bleed said.
“People tend to think of cotton as something that got big after the gin and that is often treated as a 1830s, 1840s development.
“But by that time, bloomery iron was not being produced – at least in Europe and the U.S.
“That makes the combination of material somewhat surprising.”
originally posted by: Flavian
a reply to: punkinworks10
The helmet looks similar to those from the English Civil War period (although modified), the armour looks earlier though and more Spanish / Basque. Does that suggest a mercenary? Someone who has served in various places and picked up bits here and there.