Sep 29 2021

Danzig handgonne

Bastian Asmus

Wiltu ein puchsn gießn sei sy gros oder klayn – if you want to cast a gun be it big or small

The Danzig handgonne is an unusual very early form of a firearm. The handgonne is unusual because it shows a three-faced representation at the muzzle. It is interpreted by some colleagues as a representation of the Slavic god Triglav .

How old is the handgonne from Danzig?

Unfortunately, the Danzig handgonne cannot be dated precisely because the circumstances of its discovery are unclear. We know the approximate find date: around the 1920s. There are two competing statements with regards to its find location (Petri, 2017, 222):

  1. It is from the area of Schwedt, from a pond on an estate.
  2. It is from near the city of Gdansk, and turned up during dredging operations

The Danzig handgonne was privately owned for a long time, and was auctioned at Christies in 2014. Today it is in the collections of the Royal Armouries in England. Based on stylistic features, the handgonne is believed to have been made between the mid-14th and early 15th centuries AD.

In this video, I show you how I would have cast the Danzig handgonne in the late Middle Ages using the lost wax process. I first modelled an original wax. Then I made a mould out of a refractory material: moulding loam. When the mould is fired, the wax issues from the mould, leaving the mould cavity in the hardened loam. The bronze can be poured into this. For demoulding, I have to break the mould: the mould is now lost, so each casting is unique….

I will also show you how to finish the Danzig handgonne barrel. Burrs have to be removed by chisel, the surface has to be finished in some places with the file and the scraper. Finally, I make the ash stock for hand rifle. It is a simple bar stock, as we know it for example from the Landshut Zeugausinventar.

Which material?

Unfortunately, there are no exact composition analyses of the handgonne available until today. It is definitely a copper alloy, brass is ruled out for the period and region. That leaves copper and tin bronze. Strong copper rich alloys are an unsuitable material, but these were actually used as recent investigations on another firearm show (Asmus & Homann, in prep). In addition, the numerous accounts on the bombards from the Teutonic Order area show that copper was apparently used for gun casting . Still, for this project I chose the safe option and used a 90/10 tin bronze alloy, an alloy often employed for firearms.

As an archaeometallurgist from the Laboratory for Archaeometallurgy, I study the metallurgy of our ancestors. For this I use my craft as an art founder, the historical and archaeological disciplines, as well as the material science disciplines of the natural sciences.


Nov 4 2018

Reconstruction of earliest bronze church bell is ringing for the first time

Bastian Asmus

The Carolingian bell is ringing

This reconstruction is unique,

because this bell is not only cast in the shape of the Canino bell, as it has already been done for some decades on different occasions and for scientific investigations. See for this the various excellent works of the colleague Hans Drescher . No, this reconstruction is to be made as a modern original, following the same instructions of Theophilus Presbyter concerning bell making; using the same bell metal and  the same moulding material. In short to do it, as it was supposedly done in the olden days.

This reconstruction in accordance with the production process tries to reconstruct and implement the original production process in such a way that the resulting object does not differ from the original not only in material, shape and form, but also in the way of its production.

Bell tower for the beehive bell on the Galli campus. Tower, yoke and bell can now be tested for their suitability for the coming years.

Bell tower for the beehive bell on the Galli campus. Tower, yoke and bell can now be tested for their suitability for the coming years.

Applied Archaeometallurgy

As the name suggests, applied archaeometallurgy deals with the applicability of archaeologically, historically and scientifically informed interpretations. The aim is to reconstruct a process that can be applied in practice and that could have been implemented technologically for the epoch in question. It is thus closely related to experimental archaeology. In contrast to this, it additionally formulates the wish for applicability and practicability in the sense of pragmatically acting craftsmen. In addition to the pure functioning of a method, they also have to take care of other aspects such as the production costs, raw material availability, raw material procurement, livelihood and sales of their products.

The Campus Galli Bell, the Tower and the Yoke

The reconstruction of the bell production took place over the last three years and has already been described in numerous articles, e.g. here or here, or here. Beside a specialist publication  the experiments also led to a reconstruction for the Romanesque Bartholomew Chapel in Paderborn, which will be hung there in August 2019.

For the reconstruction, a bell tower and a yoke were designed by the craftsmen of Campus Galli, which can now be tested for their practical suitability over the next few years. Sources  on yokes for early  bells is very thin: Only one yoke of the Haithabu bell is preserved . The description of Theophilus Presbyter needs more interpretation  and  is still waiting for a practical implementation.

In the afternoon of 26.10.2018 the time has come: The bell rings for the first time, and compensates with its sound from the Carolingian period for variuos failed attempts in the past three years.


Drescher, H. (1992) ‘Glocken und Glockenguss im 11. und 12. Jahrhundert’, in Waurick, G. and Böhme, H. W. (eds) Das Reich der Salier 1024 - 1125 : Katalog zur Ausstellung des Landes Rheinland-Pfalz; [Ausstellung im Historischen Museum der Pfalz, Speyer, vom 23. März bis 21. Juni 1992]. Sigmaringen: Thorbecke (Publikationen zur Ausstellung ‘Die Salier und Ihr Reich’ / Ausstellung Das Reich der Salier 1024 - 1125, 1992 Speyer), pp. 405–414.
Drescher, H. (1995) ‘Gießformen früher Glocken aus Mainz’, Mainzer Zeitschrift, 90/91, pp. 183–225.
Asmus, B. (2016) ‘Theophilus und der Guss einer Bienenkorbglocke. Ein Experiment’, Der Anschnitt, 68(1–2), pp. 45–60.
Drescher, H. (1984) ‘Glockenfunde von Haithabu’, in Schietzel, K. (ed.) Das archäologische Fundmaterial IV. Neumünster (Berichte zur Ausgrabung in Haithabu).

Jul 6 2018

A Romanesque Bell for a Romanesque Chapel

Bastian Asmus

Visiting the amazing bell foundry Grassmayr in Innsbruck, Austria, which houses the Romanesque bell from Hachen.

A Romanesque bell for the Romanesque Bartholomew chapel! What a fantastic development based on experimental archaeology! After working since 2015 on the reconstruction of the bell casting technique described by Theophilus Presbyter , which finally led to the long-awaited bell for the Campus Galli  earlier this year, there is another step to be made: For not only does the metropolitan chapter of Paderborn want the public to experience how a Romanesque bell was cast around the year 1000, no, this bell is to be installed in the Romanesque Bartholomew Chapel, which celebrated its 1000th anniversary in 2017.

The Bartholomew Chapel is not just any Romanesque chapel, it is an important architectural achievement of the high Middle Ages, which with its Byzantine style elements has no direct precursors or subsequent buildings. This oldest hall church in Germany was built in the Ottonian period as a palatine chapel during the construction of the new Paderborn palatine.

Bartholomäuskapelle, der Dachreiter für die romanische Kapelle ist noch leer!

The Bartholomew chapel in Paderborn, dated to the early 11th century. The ridge turret is still empty! There the new Romanesque bell will be installed.

A Romanesque bell in the making

The St. Bartholomew’s Chapel is given a bell that matches its date of origin. As a model for the new bell, a Romanesque bell from North Rhine-Westphalia was chosen. The bell of Hachen can be admired today in the bell museum of the bell foundry Grassmayr in Innsbruck, which acquired the bell in 1938 from the bell foundry Heinrich Hupert from Brilon. The Grassmayr brothers allowed me to measure the bell exactly, so that a new creation of this bell type can succeed. This is not about making an exact copy of the Hachen bell. Rather, it can be seen as a model for casting a “new Romanesque” bell. The technology of bell casting is similar to that used to make the Canino bell, i.e. the lost wax process as described in Theophilus Presbyter.


Romanesque bell from Hachen, Germany

The Romanesque bell from Hachen is housed in the bell museum Grassmayr in Innsbruck. In comparison to the much older Canino bell, this bell exhibits a much more pronounced waste and shoulder section.

By 1017, the church had already had at least two centuries of experience in the casting of bells. In addition to increased wall thickness of the rib the shape has also developed from an egg-shape to a more pronounced waist and shoulders. Also the sound holes are often only present as a typological rudiment. Next to the technical casting questions, here are a few questions concerning the conceptual side of bell development:

  • can the different dimensions of the bell be put in a certain ratio?
  • how was a bell designed in the Middle Ages?
  • what were the measurement options?
  • how exactly can the sound be predicted?

All ribs of contemporary bells were studied and compared. Drescher has already done very valuable work here , and many of the ideas presented here have their basis in his work.

Digression: The fingerprints of the Hachen bell founder

During the examination of the Hachen bell I discovered the fingerprints of my colleague who left them in the bell model a 1000 years ago. Even for an archaeologist this was an extremely impressive moment. It also goes to show the surface quality the casting method was capable to produce.

1000 year old fingerprints on Romanesque bell detected.

A 1000 years old fingerprints of my “colleague” in the handle of the Romanesque bell from Hachen! Width of the handle shown: 33mm.

Still no strickle board in the Romanesque period

How can we imagine the manufacturing process? Has a cleric seen another bell and developed a desire to also possess a bell? Was this wish expressed like: “I would like a bell like the one from Mainz” or was it completely different? I don’t think I can answer those questions that quickly. But since Theophilus still does not speak of the use of a strickle board a hundred years later, we must assume that the ribs of the bells were made in a different way. A direct comparison of different ribs was therefore not possible in the medieval period. This would explain also explain why the sound finding of the early bells had to be based on chance at first. It is assumed here that only the documentation of the bell rib may have led to controlled experiments on the influence of the rib on the sound.

The production of the Romanesque bell for Paderborn poses a similar problem for me. I have a client who knows a bell he’d like to have. I can look at the bell and measure it, but I cannot use the strickle board to to transfer the rib, as this was unknown in the 11th century. I can transfer the dimensions recorded with the gripping compass with the gripping compass. This inevitably results in inaccuracies which, however I suspect were not a problem then. Nevertheless, during working at the bell you wonder whether there were any underlying rules to lay out the measures. Drescher proposed that the diameter of the sound  bow provided a base measure, from which the rest of the bell may have been constructed.

The Hachen bell has a height to sound bow ratio of 5:4, as well as a ratio of the diameter at the shoulder to the total height of the bell 1:2, and a ratio of about 1:1 strike ring diameter to the height of the sounding body. Further clear ratios could not be determined so far, in particular to the curvature of the bell waist.


The project is documented as a video log and recorded in several short films. So far, the first four working days have been completed. Note that working days are not the same as the process days, as the relatively massive casting core takes several days to dry. So far, the process has been ongoing since June 23, 2018, so that eleven process days have already passed by the time this article is written (July 3, 2018)


Day 1 and 2 Romanesque bell – setting up shop and making of the core

Day 3 and 4 Romanesque bell . finishing the core

Day 5 and 6 Romanesque bell – making of wax model

Day 7 to 10 Romanesque bell – finishing the wax model

Tag 11 bis 15 Romanesque bell – mould, pit and furnace

Tag 16 bis 18 Romanesque bell – Casting the bell!!


Drescher, H. (1995) ‘Gießformen früher Glocken aus Mainz’, Mainzer Zeitschrift, 90/91, pp. 183–225.
Asmus, B. (2016) ‘Theophilus und der Guss einer Bienenkorbglocke. Ein Experiment’, Der Anschnitt, 68(1–2), pp. 45–60.
Presbyter, T. and Theobald, W. (1984) Technik des Kunsthandwerks im zwölften Jahrhundert des Theophilus Presbyter =: Diversarum artium schedula. Vollst. Reprint der Ausg. [Berlin], VDI-Verlag, 1933, Neuausg., (2. Aufl.). Düsseldorf: VDI-Verl (Klassiker der Technik).
Hawthorne, J. G. and Smith, C. S. (1979) Theophilus: On divers arts : the foremost medieval treatise on painting, glassmaking and metalwork / Theophilus / translated from the Latin with introduction and notes by John G. Hawthorne and Cyril Stanley Smith. New York: Dover.
Brepohl, E. (1999) Theophilus Presbyter und das mittelalterliche Kunsthandwerk. Band 2 Goldschmiedekunst. Böhlau.