On the search for an ancient adhesiveStudent research groups—new grant round has started
24 June 2020, by Christina Krätzig
The Linothorax student research group received funding for 2019.
The students are trying to reconstruct a linothorax as these were used in antiquity.
Martin Horst is basing his work on an historical model in the Plaster Cast Collection at Universität Hamburg.
The ancient armor consisted of handwoven linen, but for the reconstruction, modern linen can also be used.
The students are gluing 16 layers on top of each other with an adhesive consisting of animal remains.
They want to see how well this kind of protection can resist an arrow or lance.
Theory requires practice, and voluntary research groups are a good opportunity to put knowledge to the test. Students are developing apps for shuttle buses, revitalizing the medicinal garden at the Institute of Pharmacy, and reconstructing an ancient linothorax, which is a type of upper body armor. The application deadline for the 2020 funding round is 31 July 2020. A total of €100,000 is available from Excellence Strategy funds, with a maximum of €10,000 per project.
The warrior is squatting in a strange position: he rests his bodyweight on his right foot while stretching his left leg and arm forward. “He’s missing his bow,” explains Martin Horst, who majors in ancient history and has already completed his minor in archeology. However, he is more interested in the clothes worn by the Hercules statue from the fifth century BC than he is in the archer’s lost bow. “We do not know very much about the linothorax, which were widely worn then,” says the student as he analyzes the ancient armor in the University’s Plaster Cast Collection. “We know it from the literature, vase images, and sculptures like this, but only a single, tiny fragment has survived.”
Armor made of fabric and adhesive—can that work?
What we know is that the linothorax was roughly a centimeter thick and composed of several layers of fabric glued together using a hardening paste. The linen was made of flax. Presumably, the wives or slaves of the Greek warriors spun the yarn and wove the fabric. As the linothorax did not have to be produced by specialists, they were presumably not only lighter and more comfortable but also cheaper than bronze armor.
“We are still looking for the right adhesive,” says Justine Diemke, who is also part of the student research group reconstructing the linothorax. “Initially, we used paste made of linseed—that is, flaxseed. But that also didn’t work; it was too easy to pull apart the layers again.” Thus, the students are now experimenting with adhesive made of hare and rabbit fur. It is already known that this was used in antiquity.
“We are evaluating historical sources and basing our work on the proven facts,” says Martin Horst about their search for the right adhesive—and for their approach to experimental archeology in general. He says it is also important to take the Greeks’ battle styles into account. What movements did the warriors have to make, and which body parts were exposed?
Form follows function— when it comes to life and death, this motto also may well have applied in antiquity
Martin Horst, in the first, half-finished linothorax, stands next to his historical role model. The original statue is housed in a museum in Munich, but for Martin Horst’s purposes, the plaster cast is more than sufficient. He tests the freedom of movement, the straps, and the armholes and examines the length of the linothorax worn by the archer. “Thin strips of fabric on the lower seam protect the lower body. We still don’t know how they were connected to the breast armor,” Horst wonders.
He also needs to ask what the linothorax had to withstand. Should it protect its wearer against the thrust of a sword, a swiftly approaching arrow, or a lance hurled from the middle distance? “We want to try all of that out,” explain Justine Diemke and Martin Horst. In the Linothorax project, they also want to check whether adhesive made of animal remains really formed the ideal basis or whether another, as-yet-unknown agent may be more effective.
This article first appeared in the current issue of 19NEUNZEHN.
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