The first metallic saws were likely Egyptian, and they resembled a butter knife or a simplified Japanese pull saw. We know that saw technology migrated north to the Romans and Greeks. But most of the saws you see in early frescoes or mosaics are bowsaws – not the Egyptian style.
So I was delighted to see this Roman image that was turned up by contributing editor Suzanne Ellison. It depicts Daedalus and son presenting an artificial cow to Queen Pasiphae. The Roman mosaic is from Zeugma in Turkey. Most of the Zeugma mosaics were done in the 2nd century. The mosaic has the queen, her nurse Trophos, Daedalus and Icarus.
My eyes were drawn immediately to the saw. It looks like an Egyptian saw, but perhaps in iron instead of copper or bronze. It has a wooden handle at one end (in the worker’s hand) and – surprisingly – what looks like another handle at the other end. This second handle looks to be open, much like the open rectangular handles on Roman planes.
If I squint, it looks like the teeth of the saw are filed toward the handle in the workman’s hand. But if I squint again it looks like they go the other way. Or both ways.
Curses. I need to get on a plane to Turkey today to investigate. The resolution on this image isn’t satisfactory.
— Christopher Schwarz