We may only speculate about how and when the keris and its manner of use evolved. The earliest dated blade is said to bear the saka era date 1264 (A.D. 1342). The date, probably in the form of a chronogram, is open to misinterpretation, and the blade itself could easily have been made later. However, keris are portrayed in the fourteenth century relief at Panataran (A.D 1369). Keris in sheaths reminiscent of today's Buginese sheaths are worn at the backs of three figures from Grogol near Surabaya, dated A.D 1413. In the Museum Pusat in Jakarta is a strikingly animated clown-servant figure with a sheathed Keris at his back. He forms the handle of a bronze mirror attributed to the fifteenth century. Like the keris mentioned above are sufficiently developed to imply that they have passed through earlier evolutionary stages. Most examples seem to be East Javanese, supporting one theory that keris emerged as part of the East Javanese cultural of the kingdoms of Central Java and culminated in fourteenth century Majapahit.

  Foreign travellers confirmed the dispersion of the Keris : Ma Huan in Majapahit in 1433, Tome Pires on the north coast of Java in 1515, and Theodore de Bry in Bantam in 1596. Artifacts brought to European museums can be dated at least to the time of their accession . The oldest keris known in England were colected before 1637, and a fine lance with pamor and gold has been in the Danish Museum since 1647.
The Javanese prefer a system of identification based on characteristics exhibited by each blade. Some famous keris have a known history, having been preserved in the courts. Others may be fairly confidently recognized as "young keris" (nineteenth - early twentieth century). Still others are identified with a specific period and even attributed to a particular empu according to such characteristics as color and texture of iron and pamor, presence or absence of certain details of form, and length and depth of contours. The amount of agreement obtained in the application of this system is surprising, although the information on which it is based is not easily verified. Specifications for each dynasty and empu are given in court and other manuscripts. They refer to dynasties as far back as Pajajaran, a thirteenth century kingdom of West Java, and even to Jenggala in eleventh century East Java. The keris in this catalog are attributed to periods and empu arrived at by Solonese informants.

  Various iron objects, rarely keris, have been unearthed in Javanese archeological sites such as Sragen. Keris said to have been dug up belong to a special catagory. They are short, straight and sturdy with a unique square-sectioned tang, and many faetures of a surakarta keris (compare 44 and 49). They are plain iron; some have an iron metok, a wide ring, rusted over the tang, but original handles are unknown. The Solonese call them Keris Kabudan (jalak or bethok budho), believing them to come from the Central Javanese Hindu Buddhist era (ninth century or before ?). Apparently no reliable dating has been obtained for them. All objects of wesi buda (Buddhist iron) are believed to be very powerfull.

Keris Kabudan

    Another enigmatic group of keris have simple blades and stylized human  figurehilts made fromone piece of forge-welded iron. Western literature generally call them keris majapahit and, with little proof, popularly labels them as the oldest kind of keris. They are not worn, and the handle and blade orientation is the reverse of the keris - the rudimentary gandik is on the right side of the front face. Keris Majapahit served as amulets to protect crops from disease and bring good luck, they are said to have been incorporated into offerings to the Gods or ancestors. In some the hilt is a generalized upper torso with head, in others a standing figure with bent knees, or a squatting figure. Similar one-piece ritual daggers of bronze or iron, with anthropomorphic hilts, have been found in Vietnam and Borneo. The Paiwan people of Taiwan also use daggers of this type but with iron blades and bronze hilts. The distribution of these daggers suggests they are a Southeast Asian indigenous form.



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