GERMAN BRIEF: HISTORY A 3000-year-old bronze sword
so well-preserved, it shines
June 2023: In June 2023, German archaeologists unearthed a 3000-year-old sword near Nördlingen (Bavaria). The team of archaeologists came across the particularly well-preserved weapon from the Bronze Age which was placed as a burial object in a grave. “The bronze sword is so exceptionally well preserved that it almost still shines.” It is a representative of the bronze full hilt swords, whose octagonal handle is made entirely of bronze. (A sword hilt comes in a wide variety of forms depending on the period and origin. The portion of a sword below the blade known as the hilt usually consists of a hand guard, handle or grip and pommel.)
Experts dated the sword provisionally to the end of the 14th century BC, i.e. to the Middle Bronze Age. Sword finds from that period are rare and either come from grave mounds, opened in the 19th century, or have turned up probably as individual sacrificial finds.
The weapon, dubbed the ‘Nördlingen-Sword’, comes from a grave in which three people were buried in quick succession: a man, a woman and a youth. It is not yet clear whether the persons were related to each other, or if so, in what way. The archaeologists also found other bronze burial objects.
The production of octagonal swords is complex, as the handle is cast over the blade (so-called overlay casting). The decoration is made via an inlay and by means of hallmarks. While there are two real rivets, another pair of rivets is only indicated. Despite the manufacturing effort and the lack of marks indicating fighting, it is believed that the sword was a real weapon. The centre of gravity in the front part of the blade indicates that it was balanced mainly for slashing.
Was the sword made in Bavaria? It is believed that there were two separate centres of distribution for octagonal swords: Southern Germany on the one hand, and Northern Germany and Denmark on the other. A comparison of the casting techniques and the decoration shows that some of the octagonal swords in the north are apparently copies of southern German forms, while other pieces could be genuine imports or the product of ‘travelling craftsmen’.
The Head of the Bavarian office for the preservation of historical monuments (Bayerisches Landesamtes für Denkmalpflege, BFLD) Prof Mathias Pfeil said that the sword and the burial ground still have to be examined so that archaeologists can classify this find more precisely. “But we can already say that the state of preservation is exceptional! A find like this is very rare."
Source: Bayerisches Landesamtes für Denkmalpflege. Photos: Archäologie-Büro Dr Woidich
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