Caltrop

(a.k.a. Crowsfoot, Calthrop, Jack Rock, Star Nail)

The artifact shown on the left is a caltrop that was unearthed in an excavation near Jamestown, and is a great example of the simplistic design of a caltrop. The weapon was generally crafted from scrap iron and forged into shape with 4 iron points. This design insured that no matter how the caltrop may land, 1 point will always project upwards.

Since most sailors tended to work barefoot on board a ship to avoid slipping on wet decks and for general comfort, Pirates would sometimes toss caltrops or crowsfeet onto the deck of a ship they were preparing to board. The spikes could inflict terrible injuries or extreme pain if trodden on, and at the very least add confusion and chaos to a ship as it tried to defend itself.

The military device, sometimes written and said caltrap, appears to have been named after one of a number of plants with spiny burrs. For obvious reasons it’s another name for the star thistle (Centaurea calcitrapa). It’s a local name for the curled pondweed (Potomageton crispus), which produces lots of winter seeds that are hard and burr-like. A plant called the water chestnut (Trapa natans) is also known as the water caltrop, which has fruit with two spines that are hard enough to penetrate the hooves of stock as well as human feet.

The word derives from the Old English calketrippe, for any plant that tended to catch the feet. In turn this comes from the medieval Latin calcatrippa, a compound either of calx, “heel” or calcare, “to tread”, with a word related to “trap” that came from one of the Germanic languages. The military sense of the word probably came into English from French usage.


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