Hamper- and Flex Scuthing knives in the Avar Age Graves

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Balogh C.

in: TOMKA 80 – Ünnepi tanulmányok Tomka Péter köszöntésére, Nemes Gábor, Editor, Rómer Flóris Művészeti és Történeti Múzeum, Györ, pp.33-64, 2020

  • Publication Type: Book Chapter / Chapter Vocational Book
  • Publication Date: 2020
  • Publisher: Rómer Flóris Művészeti és Történeti Múzeum
  • City: Györ
  • Page Numbers: pp.33-64
  • Editors: Nemes Gábor, Editor


During the Merovingian Age the women’s toolkit included those wood-handled iron tools which were used for breaking the hamper and flex in Western- and Eastern Europe. This type of object is also well known from the 6th century Gepid graves from the Tisza Region and the Transylvanian Basin, i.e. Maros Valley. In addition to them they occurred in 104 Avar Age graves of 14 sites (Table 1). These finds in the cultures of the East Transdanubia, Tisza Valley and Maros Valley can be connected with Avar Age communities of German origin (Picture 1). They were found in the highest number at the site of Zamárdi-Rétiföldek. Concerning the origin of the tool a consensus was reached: their use and the tradition of their placement into the graves reflect the presence of local German (for all probability Gepid) population in the Avar Age.
The scutching knives were formed by hammering. At the two ends of the elongated rectangular or more rarely: trapezoid blade two shafts were formed (and in case of some pieces of the Zamárdi cemetery they were extended with a third shaft at the middle of the blade (Picture 3, 1.d). Based on the wood-fibre remains of the shafts, we can infer wooden shafts parallel with the blade (Picture 2).
According to the rate and form of the blades, the different rounding of the edges of the blade and the different position of the shafts several groups of form can be distinguished (Picture 3), which could be con¬sidered as the individual product marks of the different smiths having been operated at the different sites. The inner side of most of the scutching knives is even (Picture 3, 2.1.), but there are also pieces with curved (Picture 3, 2.2.) or jagged (Picture 3, 2.3.) inner side.
Most of the scutching knives (84) are from the graves of young girls and little girls – this tool was neverplaced into mature women’s graves neither in
Western nor in Central Europe – including the Carpathian Basin. Five of such scutching knives were found in male graves, while among the women’s graves there are some with rich grave-goods, where these iron tools might have been placed as symbolical objects.
These tools appear in young female and girl’s graves containing special items of women’s attire, such as – most specifically, the western origin women’s belt of floppy ornaments and the connected habit of the use of filigrane bronze discs. Other late Antique and Merovingian attire pieces also regularly appear in these graves, such as the hair and breast pins, or the small buckles, used for the closing of the ankle-strap sandals and/or fixing the knee-high leggings, iron mountings, belt ends, amulet capsules, iron keys, plate needle-holders, etc.
Formerly, the scutching knives were known only from the early Avar Age burials. Later, the objects from the Tiszafüred cemetery demonstrated that this type of finds might occur even in graves of the second half of the 7th century. According to our present knowledge the habit of placing the scutching knives into the graves survived the longest in the community using the cemetery of the Zamárdi-Rétiföldek. Most of the 61 graves containing breaking knives are dated to the middle and last thirds of the 7th century, but the latest type of punched strip plait and cast sarmentose and fleury belt decorations and belt-ends reflect that they were placed into the graves until the middle of the 8th century.