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garynyc

Zulu shield from Collector's Estate...assistance please

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Hi all; 

 

I came upon this at an estate sale in Long Island, New York USA. The homeowner had an interest in the Zulu war. This shield was prominently displayed in his gallery. I was hoping that someone could establish any possible information about this artifact. There is some damage and hide hair loss, but this may be due to actual use in the field. His entire main hallway had artifacts and prints from various Zulu battles...but there is no provenance for this shield that I could find.

 

Thank you

 

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How is the leather?  Very interesting item!

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Hi Paul;

 

The leather is very rigid, and there is a good amount of warping. I will post some more pictures. Any idea as to the tribe/area this might have come from? The owner had about a dozen framed, signed prints from Mark Churms depicting the battle at Isandlwna. It was like a shrine!

 

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Well, it seems to match the shields in the NAM. Oh Merwyn would have loved this.

I can not see the other pictures in the thread above- they have morphed into kittens. 

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Sorry about the photos. Will try to edit their location.

It's for sale currently but I doubt it will sell here in the US. 

 

Check out this item I found on eBay:

http://pages.ebay.com/link/?nav=item.view&id=121859118847&alt=web

Thanks for chiming in!

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Ulsterman, what is the NAM? An acronym for a war relic reference book?

 

Thanks.

Gary

Edited by garynyc

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It looks authentic to me. The hair loss is because the shields were essentially rawhide without the hair removed. The skin was scraped to remove flesh adn fat and stretched open fresh to dry, and that. I don't think they even salted the fresh skins back then, but I'm not sure. Hair loss is almost standard on such old shields and typically occurs where minute traces of fat remained on the skin. This allows microbial activity which results in hair loss. 

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Salt in southern African traditional societies was a scarce and valuable commodity, and generally not used for tanning. Hides, if tanned, were processed using either vegetable or fat tanning methods. Hair loss even on newly made items is commonplace.

The shield shape on the one you've shown is not limited to the Zulu's only. Other tribal groups in southern Africa also used the same exact type of shield. Also, during the Mpfecane period, Zulu splinter groups broke away from the Zulu and moved north into what is now Zimbabwe, parts of Zambia and into southern Tanzania.

"Traditional" items associated with hunting and warfare, have always been hot tourist items since the 1950's. "Hollywood" has also bought (and had made) items for use in a range of films, not to mention "Zulu" in the early 1960's, and "Zulu Dawn" almost twenty years later. Props from those two films have even become collector items in some circles.

Shields originally had a stick or pole inserted through the laced leather loops on the back. These are almost always missing on shields, period or made-for-the-tourist, because the size of the shield was awkward, and when removed, the thing could be rolled up for easier transportation or shipping home.

Check out this link: http://hollywoodmoviecostumesandprops.blogspot.com/2011/10/costumes-and-props-from-zulu

Look towards the bottom of the article and note the exact construction method as the one you've shown, used for a shield used as a promotional give-away prop for "Zulu" in 1964.

Dating when items were made is not easy, and all to often based on guesswork and thinking something "looks old" or that construction methods are the same. Sometimes there are clues, and construction methods do change over time. One item I always look for is whether the iron used on swords, spear heads, etc, is truly hand forged iron, and not steel which was not available in traditional African societies who smelted, and forged their own iron before the spread of western made items changed their technology. Hand made iron takes time and a lot of labor to produce, resulting in traditional iron objects such as spear heads being smaller than those made after the WWI era when steel became plentiful and traditional iron making began dying out.

With leather, dating is almost impossible without some documentation that comes with the item. It's very much a seat of the pants type thing at times.

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Thanks for the history on such shields! Just sold it to a chap in GB for US 250.

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Well done, Gary!

Les is correct about leather items being essentially impossible to date accurately except by evidence other than the item itself.  His point about old iron is also a very pertinent one.  A friend is actually an expert in Viking Age smithing and has discovered that it is almost impossible to make artifacts above a certain [small] size on charcoal forges, which is what I believe African smiths used.  That and the sheer cost of iron meant that nothing was made of iron if another material would do, even in medieval and early modern Europe, but of course that iron tools and weapons were cared for and often passed down for decades. 

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