Museum News


The Journey of the Armor

An ancient piece of armor that has been a part of the museum’s collection since it was given to the University by alumnus Gen. Charles A. Coolidge (NU 1863) in the early 19th century was always believed to be from China. Gen. Coolidge acquired the armor in Beijing when he was sent to China as part of the Army’s 9th Regiment to help defeat the Boxer Rebellion. The armor has been on exhibit a few times at the museum, and periodically removed from storage to be examined by students in classes at the museum.

Cadet Sean McCrystal, a junior history major has been working closely with museum staff researching the armor after he chose the piece during a classroom visit to the museum. During prelimin

ary research McCrystal discovered that Chinese armor looks very different than the armor in the museum’s collection because typical Chinese armor resembles more of a dress with leather and scales. McCrystal found that the armor in the museum’s collection was similar to Japanese armor worn by a samurai warrior. The armor is covered with plates of iron and steel with a hinge so the warrior could put it on with ease. McCrystal believes the armor to be made in the late 16th century and is continuing research to support his theory. The armor lacks the accompanying helmet, which is where the maker would leave his signature, so without that piece it is difficult to pinpoint the maker. He theorizes that the armor may have been a ceremonial gift from Japan to China, to improve trade relations but lacks support for that idea at the moment.

Additionally, researching this artifact has charted new territory for McCrystal and staff into areas not previously attempted. Museum staff member Katherine Taylor-McBroom and McCrystal were able to get an appointment with the Imaging and Radiology Department at Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, Vermont to have the armor, collar and accompanying skirt x-rayed.  CVMC was generous to do this pro bono for the museum and the Radiology staff were pretty excited to participate. X-rays can reveal previous breakage, repairs, type of materials and internal structures of an artifact. X rays are used by conservators in many other museums and is considered safe for objects.  Additional knowledge gained from seeing the core of an artifact assists conservators in knowing how to treat and preserve the artifact. The x-ray of the armor revealed that the internal structure was man made and not machine made because of the irregularity in the holes which holds the internal leather core in place. This type of information helps in McCrystal’s research in dating the artifact. The fabric collar which attaches to the armor revealed some intriguing information when x-rayed. Several parts of the collar have tightly woven threading which underneath revealed either a stone or metal material not previously seen without the x ray.

On its exterior the collar has several dark brown-reddish stains.  We wondered if this might be blood and if we could extract DNA from the collar. Alumnus Mike Hemond (NU 2000), an off duty Investigator with the Burlington Police Department, offered to use a field test kit to swab the collar to test for blood evidence. His test kit did not produce a positive most likely because of the age of the object and the stain. Hemond provided the contact information for a company that tests DNA that is older and not picked up by other current DNA kits. He provided the contact information for Jessica Zarate, a Research Scientist/Instructor in Forensic Science from the Madonna University in Michigan visited the museum to test the blood with a special light called the Zar-Pro florescent blood lifter. The light does not harm the artifact and Ms. Zarate was able to detect blood evidence on the collar that showed a pattern of trickling down into the inner core of the armor. Blood remnants on the inner core of the armor was not previously detected by museum staff.  Test samples of blood were carefully lifted and sent to a lab for further testing to determine if any DNA can be ascertained.  If DNA can be verified, a profile can be created it may be possible to determine genetics, possible ancestry and approximate location of the individual’s origins. Several tests are being conducted by the researchers and we are awaiting the results.

In conjunction with museum staff McCrystal continues researching the armor because there are many unanswered questions. He has contacted other museums in Boston and New York that are familiar with samurai armor in order to answer some of his questions regarding the fabric and dye on the collar. Through the guidance of other experts and a possible analysis on the fabric, McCrystal hopes he can discover what area the fabric and dye originated. He will continue to work with museum staff and we look forward to an update at the conclusion of his amazing project.









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