Category Archive 'Bronze Age'

19 Sep 2017

Royal Assyrian Sickle Sword

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Sickle sword

Middle Assyrian

ca. 1307–1275 B.C.

Northern Mesopotamia



L. 54.3 cm


Credit Line:
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1911

Accession Number:

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 406

This curved sword bears the cuneiform inscription “Palace of Adad-nirari, king of the universe, son of Arik-den-ili, king of Assyria, son of Enlil-nirari, king of Assyria,” indicating that it was the property of the Middle Assyrian king Adad-nirari I (r. 1307–1275 B.C.). The inscription appears in three places on the sword: on both sides of the blade and along its (noncutting) edge. Also on both sides of the blade is an engraving of an antelope reclining on some sort of platform.

Curved swords appear frequently in Mesopotamian art as symbols of authority, often in the hands of gods and kings. It is therefore likely that this sword was used by Adad-nirari, not necessarily in battle, but in ceremonies as an emblem of his royal power.

24 Aug 2017

In Sweden, Officials Are Simply Recycling Bronze and Iron Age Artifacts

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One of the amulet rings from the Iron Age that archaeologists are recycling. Previously, this type of object was saved, says archaeologist Johan Runer.

Rough translation from Swedish language article in Svenska Dagbladet:

While the debate about burning books is raging in the media, Swedish archaeologists throw away amulet rings and other ancient discoveries. It feels wrong and sad to destroy thousands of years of ritual arts and crafts, and I’m not alone in feeling so.

“What you do is destroy our history! Says Johan Runer, archaeologist at Stockholm County Museum.

Amulet rings from the Iron Age, like Viking weights and coins, belong to a category of objects that, as far as Runer knows, were previously always saved.

He tried to raise the alarm in an article in the journal Popular Archeology (No. 4/2016), describing how arbitrary thinning occurs. Especially in archeological studies before construction and road projects, the focus is on quickly and cheaply removing the heritage so that the machine tools can proceed.

He works himself in these kinds of excavations. Nobody working in field archeology wants to get a reputation as an uncooperative “find-fanatic” but now he cannot be quiet any longer.

“It’s quite crazy, but this field operates in the marketplace. We are doing business,” says Runer.

Often, especially in the case of minor excavations, there is a standing order from the county administrative boards that as few discoveries as possible should be taken.

If you think it seems unlikely, I recommend reading the National Archives Office’s open archive, such as report 2016: 38. An archaeological preamble of settlement of bronze and iron age before reconstruction by Flädie on the E6 outside Lund.

In the finds catalog, coins, knives, a tin ornament, a ring and a weight from the Viking Age or early Middle Ages have been placed in the column “Weeded Out”.

Current research about weights and measures focusing on the Viking era is underway, “says Lena Holmquist, archaeologist at Stockholm University.

But one puzzle piece is gone.

At another dig in the millennial culture village Molnby in Vallentuna, several amulet rings from the Iron Age were found. Amulet rings were ritual items used during the Vendel and Viking times.

Johan Anund, Regional Director of the Archaeology Staff at the State Historical Museums who made the thinning, says that archaeologists at all times have to make priorities in order to avoid drowning in objects.

It is the county boards that hire archaeology staffs to carry out archaeological investigations. An easy way to lower the cost is to reduce the number of items to be preserved.

Ceramics require no preservation and are usually saved. However, iron and metal must be treated after perhaps a thousand years in the ground. So if the staff puts funds for conserving two metal objects in its bid but finds twelve then they have to discard ten. To metal recycling.

The historical museum now only deals with objects that have been preserved.

Weeding out typically occurs in the field, usually by an individual who must quickly decide: save or throw away? As a result, familiar objects are preserved.

Last year a sensational little dragon was found in Birka. It looked the more like a lump of rust when it was picked up, but the archaeologists in Birka are among the few who have the time and capabilities to investigate. On a commissioned archaeological dig, the dragon would probably have been thrown away.

Archaeologists do not give away or sell finds because they do not want to create a market for antiquities and encourage robbers with metal detectors, says Runer. Thus: the bin.

“It is troubling when in other countries everything is done to preserve their heritage …,” says archaeologist Lena Holmquist.

Conclusion: If society no longer believes it can afford to take responsibility for Sweden’s history, county councils should stop builders and developers from excavating ancient sites. One alternative is to stop outsourcing the cultural heritage to the lowest bidder with the largest waste bin.

Now the question is what the National Antiquarian Lars Amréus, or the cultural minister, are thinking? They are responsible for the cultural heritage of Sweden and the destruction of history takes place during their shift.

Isn’t it typical of academics and state bureaucrats that they’d rather throw artifacts in the recycling bin than release them into the hands of private collectors? God forbid, some private citizen with a metal detector, lacking a badge and the right university credentials should find anything!

HT: Jean-Batave Poqueliche, at Return of Kings, who found the story and spun it in the direction of deliberate Multicultural malevolence.

25 May 2017

Making Bronze Swords


At Sarah Hoyt’s site, J.M. Ney-Grimm wondered exactly how the ancients manufactured swords in the Bronze Age.

Making a sword was resource intensive, both because of the valuable metals required and because of the labor from many skilled individuals that went into it. …

Bronze is made by mixing a small part of tin with a larger portion of copper. The ancients didn’t have modern strip mines or deep underground mines. Nor did they have sophisticated machinery run by deisel engines. How did they get copper and tin out of the ground?

Copper mines bore some resemblance to my expectations. The copper deposits needed to be relatively near the surface, but the ancients actually did tunnel down to a vein of ore. There, at the working face, they built a fire to heat the ore-containing rock. Once the rock reached a high enough temperature, they doused it with cold water. This process increased the brittleness of the rock and induced a preliminary degree of cracking. Blows from a hammer or pick could then break it into rubble, which could be heated in a smelting furnace to extract the copper.

Tin was another matter, one entirely new to me.

Tin was found in alluvial deposits in stream beds, usually as a very pure tin gravel well stirred with gravels of quartz, mica, and feldspar (gangue). So the trick was to separate out the tin gravel from the others.

The method of the ancients, as far back as 2,000 BC, was this:

• Dig a trench at the lowest end of the deposit.
• Dig a channel from the nearest water source to pour water over that part of the deposit
• Allow the stream of water to wash the lighter gangue into the trench
• Pick up the heavier tin gravel that remained
• When the lower portion of the deposit had yielded all its tin, dig another trench a bit higher and redirect the water channel, to allow the next section of the deposit to be harvested

The tin gravel thus obtained would be roughly smelted on site, simply roasting the gravel in a fire. The pebbles resulting from this rough smelt would then be transported to a dedicated furnace for a second smelting that yielded the purer tin needed by bladesmiths.

Modern ingots are rectangular blocks, but those of the ancients took several different forms. The earliest were so-called “biscuit” ingots, round on the bottom like a muffin, gently concave on the top. They took the shape of the earthen pit into which the molten metal dripped from the smelting furnace.

But metal is heavy, and the biscuit shape awkward to carry. Around our own Mediterranean, an “oxhide” form was developed. It weighed about 80 pounds and possessed four “legs,” one at each corner, that allowed it to be tied between pack animals or gripped and carried by men.

I became fascinated with an ingot form used much later by the Chinese in the Malay Penninsula. These were hat shaped, much smaller (weighing only a pound), and actually used as currency.

Bronze has one very peculiar property in the smithy.

Most metals, such as iron or even copper, when heated and cooled slowly to room temperature, become more ductile and more workable. They are less prone to internal stresses.

Bronze does not behave like this. When slow cooled, it becomes brittle and difficult to work. Thus it must be heated to cherry-red and then quenched in water. This quick cooling makes it so soft that it can then be hammered. The hammering condenses the metal, giving it more rigidity.

A bladesmith will hammer near the edge of a blade to harden it and help it keep its sharpness, while allowing the center rib to retain more of its resilience.

Were These Swords Any Good?If you compare a bronze sword to a steel sword, the steel is always going to win. But when the Bronze Age gave way to the Iron Age, bronze metallurgy was at its peak. Several thousand years had gone into the development of the most superb techniques. Iron metallurgy was in its infancy, and getting the iron swords to be rigid enough was a problem. The iron swords just weren’t as good as the bronze ones, which were light, strong, just rigid enough, and held an edge well.


12 Sep 2016

Apparent Gold-Handed Bronze Sword Found Under Scottish Soccer Field

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Daily Mail:

A suspected Bronze Age sword with a gold hilt that may be up to 4,000-years-old has been uncovered on the site of a new community football pitch.

Diggers moved into the site in Carnoustie, Angus, in Scotland after a collection of relics were unearthed while workmen began laying foundations for the new sports field.

Work to the playing fields has now been halted while archaeologists scour the site.

The find appears to be a sword with a gold hilt, or handle, dating back to the Bronze Age.

It looks as though it could be two items – possibly a spear point or a broken sword.

Early excavations have revealed a trove of ancient artefacts, which the archaeologists believe could date back thousands of years. …

Due to the fragile nature of the find it has to be specially lifted out in order to conserve it for experts to examine in a laboratory.

09 Jun 2016

A British Pompeii

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Charlotte Higgins, in the New Yorker, describes a 3000-year-old archaeological site near Peterborough where Bronze-Age round houses on piles were abandoned due to a sudden fire that burned pilings and dropped houses and their contents into a river thus preserving their contents and consequently offering an extraordinary picture of ordinary daily life in Britain 1000 years before the Roman Invasion.

[F]rom time to time, the soil pushes up clues, particularly in the fens, where the waterlogged earth creates anaerobic conditions that slow decay. One summer day in 1999, a local archeologist was walking at Must Farm, along the edge of a disused clay pit; at one time it was filled with water, but the water level had dropped enough to reveal some wooden stakes poking out. The Cambridge Archaeological Unit, which operates out of the university, an hour’s drive away, did some exploratory work and found, through radiocarbon dating, that the material dated from about 900 B.C. The site was monitored for several years, until Historic England, a government agency devoted to preserving the country’s heritage, began to press for it to be properly excavated. Last September, with funding from Historic England and the brick-making company Forterra, a team of about a dozen archeologists went to work.

Each day, they are making discoveries that are radically expanding the knowledge of Bronze Age Britain. The site is unparalleled in the U.K. for its wealth of artifacts and the pristine state of their preservation. Three thousand years ago, it was a settlement of wooden roundhouses, but life there ended abruptly: a fire tore through it, and the buildings collapsed, sank into the marshland, and were quickly entombed by silt and mud. “In archeology, very occasionally, there is the feeling that you have turned up just a week too late, that the people who were here have just moved on,” Mark Knight, the archeologist in charge of excavation at Must Farm, told me when I visited for a day in April. “This site has that feeling to it. Normally in Britain, when you dig, three thousand years of history seems manifest in the remains, because the most you tend to find is a few postholes and a potsherd. Here, somehow, the time span feels short. It’s so intact, so three-dimensional.” Inevitably, perhaps, the site has been nicknamed the Pompeii of Peterborough.

Read the whole thing.

26 Apr 2016

Men of Haplogroup R1b-L11 (Half the Men Living in Western Europe) Thought to Descend From One Bronze Age Man

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Bronze Age burial.

Genome Web summarizes an interesting paper on “Punctuated bursts in human male demography…” published yesterday in Nature Genetics.

[R]esearchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and elsewhere analyzed the Y chromosomes of more than 1,200 men from 26 populations using data collected by the 1000 Genome Project. After examining about 65,000 variants contained within this dataset, the researchers constructed a phylogenetic tree — a tree, they noted, that more closely resembled a bush in some spots.

“This pattern tells us that there was an explosive increase in the number of men carrying a certain type of Y chromosome, within just a few generations,” co-lead author Yali Xue from the Sanger Institute said in a statement. “We only observed this phenomenon in males, and only in a few groups of men.”

Xue and her colleagues drew upon a set of 1,244 Y chromosomes from men belonging to 26 world populations. …

[T]he branching patterns they observed among several lineages indicated extreme expansion some 50,000 years to 55,000 years ago as well as within the last few thousand years. The expansion 50,000 years to 55,000 years ago was also linked to an increase in lineages outside of Africa and could, they suggested, reflect the expansion of Eurasian populations.

It also supports the previously proposed notion that haplogroup E, which is the most predominant one in Africa, actually arose outside the continent and arrived there through gene flow from Asia some 50,000 years to 80,000 years ago.

The phylogenetic tree also hints that lineages that have spread throughout Eurasia may have first diversified within South and Southeast Asia. …

[These branching patterns] suggested that… bursts of male population growth might correspond to historical events. For instance, they noted an expansion of the Q1a-M3 lineage in the Americas some 15,000 years ago, which roughly corresponds with initial peopling there. In addition, they found that both the Eb1-M180 lineages in sub-Saharan Africa underwent an expansion about 5,000 years ago at about the time of the Bantu expansion. Finally, within Western Europe, they said the expansion of the R1b-L11 lineages some 4,800 years to 5,900 years ago could be associated with the rise of the Bronze Age Yamnaya culture.

The researchers were less certain about the reasons behind some of the other late expansions they observed.

“The best explanation is that they may have resulted from advances in technology that could be controlled by small groups of men,” the Sanger Institute’s Chris Tyler­-Smith added. “Wheeled transport, metal working, and organized warfare are all candidate explanations that can now be investigated further.”


Leave it to newspapers to popularize this kind of thing. The Telegraph takes the last portion of the reported findings, the part relevant to Merry Old England, and runs with it.

Half of Western European men are descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’ who sired a dynasty of elite nobles which spread throughout Europe, a new study has shown.

The monarch, who lived around 4,000 years ago, is likely to have been one of the earliest chieftains to take power in the continent.

He was part of a new order which emerged in Europe following the Stone Age, sweeping away the previous egalitarian Neolithic period and replacing it with hierarchical societies which were ruled by a powerful elite.

It is likely his power stemmed from advances in technology such as metal working and wheeled transport which enabled organised warfare for the first time.

Although it is not known who he was, or where he lived, scientists say he must have existed because of genetic variation in today’s European populations.

Read the whole thing.

28 Mar 2016

Great Bronze Age Battle Fought in Northern Germany

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Around the time that the Greeks were fighting the Trojans because Menelaos’ wife Helen had run off with Paris, evidence has been found proving that a great battle involving thousands of men was fought over a nearly 2 mile (3 kilometer) front along the Tollense River in Northern Germany.

The conventional perspective is that Northern Europe, in the Bronze Age, was a sparsely-populated wilderness containing only scattered individual farmsteads, no cities, no advanced cultures, no major population centers, just a few pitiful, fur-clad barbarians.

So, how on earth, could there possibly have been two leaders and two societies stretching across such large territories and featuring such potent forms of political organization as to be able to field such large armies prepared to fight to the death?

These questions are absolutely fascinating, but since literacy and written records simply did not exist, we will never know the answers. All this does seem to demonstrate, though, that Barbarous, Prehistoric Europe was a lot more culturally-developed and complex than can be readily imagined.


In 1996, an amateur archaeologist found a single upper arm bone sticking out of the steep riverbank—the first clue that the Tollense Valley, about 120 kilometers north of Berlin, concealed a gruesome secret. A flint arrowhead was firmly embedded in one end of the bone, prompting archaeologists to dig a small test excavation that yielded more bones, a bashed-in skull, and a 73-centimeter club resembling a baseball bat. The artifacts all were radiocarbon-dated to about 1250 B.C.E., suggesting they stemmed from a single episode during Europe’s Bronze Age.

Now, after a series of excavations between 2009 and 2015, researchers have begun to understand the battle and its startling implications for Bronze Age society. Along a 3-kilometer stretch of the Tollense River, archaeologists from the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Department of Historic Preservation (MVDHP) and the University of Greifswald (UG) have unearthed wooden clubs, bronze spearheads, and flint and bronze arrowheads. They have also found bones in extraordinary numbers: the remains of at least five horses and more than 100 men. Bones from hundreds more may remain unexcavated, and thousands of others may have fought but survived.

“If our hypothesis is correct that all of the finds belong to the same event, we’re dealing with a conflict of a scale hitherto completely unknown north of the Alps,” says dig co-director Thomas Terberger, an archaeologist at the Lower Saxony State Service for Cultural Heritage in Hannover. “There’s nothing to compare it to.” It may even be the earliest direct evidence—with weapons and warriors together—of a battle this size anywhere in the ancient world.

Northern Europe in the Bronze Age was long dismissed as a backwater, overshadowed by more sophisticated civilizations in the Near East and Greece. Bronze itself, created in the Near East around 3200 B.C.E., took 1000 years to arrive here. But Tollense’s scale suggests more organization—and more violence—than once thought. “We had considered scenarios of raids, with small groups of young men killing and stealing food, but to imagine such a big battle with thousands of people is very surprising,” says Svend Hansen, head of the German Archaeological Institute’s (DAI’s) Eurasia Department in Berlin. The well-preserved bones and artifacts add detail to this picture of Bronze Age sophistication, pointing to the existence of a trained warrior class and suggesting that people from across Europe joined the bloody fray.


23 Jan 2015

Archaeological Tyranny & Hype

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Nebra sky disc

The National Post describes, with grossly naive exaggeration and the worst kind of statist prejudice, an interesting, rather pretty Bronze Age artifact with an outrageously offensive history.

The Nebra disc was found in 1999 along with two bronze swords, two hatchets, a chisel, and fragments of spiral bracelets, by Henry Westphal and Mario Renner using a metal detector.

The government of the German state of Saxony-Anhalt claims to own everything in the ground and, as knowledge of the find gradually became known to the public, confiscated all the artifacts found and charged the discoverers with “looting.” Westphal and Renner were convicted and sentenced to prison, as a reward for their discovery, for four months and ten months in 2003. When they appealed, the appeal court raised their sentences to six and twelve months.

Thus, as the National Post reports, the precious artifacts were “saved from the black market” and transferred to the custody of bureaucratic officialdom and the all-knowing administrative state.

The disc has been dated on the basis of the style of the bronze swords buried with it to the mid 2nd millennium BC. Radiocarbon dating of a bit of birchbark found on one of the swords was dated to between 1600 and 1560 BC confirming the former estimate.

The author of the article was scarcely able to breathe while describing the totally astonishing alleged scientific significance of the disc. Why, the Nebra disc represents the earliest human depiction of the cosmos!

Saxony-Anhalt’s house prehistorian & archaeologist Harald Meller (who personally confiscated the horde on behalf of the Leviathan state) has interpreted the disc as a tool used for determining when a thirteenth month – the so-called intercalary month – should be added to a lunar year to keep the lunar calendar in sync with the seasons. When certain prominent constellations, particularly the Pleiades, lined up with the sun and moon as displayed on the disc, every 2-3 years, it would be time to add an extra month in order to bring the lunar and solar calendars into agreement.

Or maybe it was simply made as a piece of decorative art, depicting the most prominent constellations in the night sky.

There is, of course, no real reason, beyond arrogance and brute force, why any state should be entitled to lay claim to ownership of all undiscovered archaeological finds, and there is also no particular reason to believe that immediate state ownership is essential to their preservation. Art objects have been collected and preserved historically most commonly privately since Antiquity. In the modern world, art objects privately owned have a strong tendency to make their way via philanthropy into institutional collections.

These days, we read frequently of absolutely fascinating finds made by hobbyist metal collectors in Britain. In Saxony-Anhalt, I expect we will be reading about fewer of those, since the reward for discovery there is imprisonment for looting.

Wikipedia article

Meller’s theory explained

12 Jan 2015

Testing a Bronze Age Sword

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Ewart Park Phase, 700-800 B.C.

Via Art of Swords.

25 Nov 2014

Bronze Age Dirk Had Been Used as a Doorstop

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The Rudham Dirk was found bent.

EDP24 has a great story.

The 3,500-year-old Rudham Dirk, a ceremonial Middle Bronze Age dagger, was first ploughed up near East Rudham more than a decade ago. But the landowner didn’t realise what it was and was using it to prop open his office door.

And the bronze treasure even came close to being thrown in a skip, but luckily archaeologists identified it in time.

Now the dirk has been bought for Norfolk for close to £41,000 and is now on display in Norwich Castle Museum.

Dr John Davies, Chief Curator of Norfolk Museums Service, said: “This is one of the real landmark discoveries.”

The dirk – a kind of dagger – was never meant to be used as a weapon and was deliberately bent when it was made as an offering to the gods.

Only five others like it have ever been found in Europe – including one at Oxborough in 1988, which is now in the British Museum. But thanks to a £38,970 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, following a £2,000 donation from the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society, the Bronze Age treasure will now stay in the county.

Read the whole thing.


The British Museum’s account of its discovery differs:

Stumbling upon antiquity

A man walking in woods near Oxborough literally stumbled across this dirk in 1988. It had been thrust vertically into soft peaty ground nearly 3,500 years ago, but erosion had exposed the hilt-plate, which caught his toe.

The ‘weapon’ respects the basic style of early Middle Bronze Age dirks, but it is ridiculously large and unwieldy, 70.9 cm long and 2.37 kg in weight. The edges of the blade are very neatly fashioned, but deliberately blunt and no rivet holes were ever provided at the butt for attaching a handle in the customary manner. The dirk was evidently never intended to be functional in any practical way. Instead, it was probably designed for ceremonial use, or as a means of storing wealth.

Although of an extremely rare type, and indeed the first example from Britain, there are four excellent parallels from continental Europe – two each from the Netherlands and France. Two of these earlier finds give the type the name Plougrescant-Ommerschans type. The five weapons are so similar, in style and execution, that it is possible that they were all made in the same workshop. However, on present evidence we cannot be sure whether this was in Britain, or the neighbouring parts of continental Europe.

Ceremonial bronze dirk

Bronze Age, 1450-1300 BC
From Oxborough, Norfolk, England

Hat tip to Ratak Monodosico.

23 May 2011

Old, Unhappy, Far-off Things, and Battles Long Ago

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Human remains of Bronze Age began turning up along the banks of the Tollense River, near Neubrandenburg on the Mecklenburg plain north of Berlin, in 1997.

More than 2000 bones representing the skeletal remains of 90 individuals, along with war clubs and the remains of horses, have been found, providing evidence of a battle fought here around 1250 B.C.

An article appearing in this month’s Antiquity (behind subscription screen) reports:

Chance discoveries of weapons, horse bones and human skeletal remains along the banks of the River Tollense led to a campaign of research which has identified them as the debris from a Bronze Age battle. The resources of war included horses, arrowheads and wooden clubs, and the dead had suffered blows indicating face-to-face combat. This surprisingly modern and decidedly vicious struggle took place over the swampy braided streams of the river in an area of settled, possibly coveted, territory. Washed along by the current, the bodies and weapons came to rest on a single alluvial surface.

The archaeological investigation does not seem to have turned up any metal weapons. Perhaps, metal swords and spear points were so valuable in the region in that period that they would have been carefully recovered at the time of the battle. The wooden weapons found, some examples described as resembling a baseball bat and a polo mallet, must have been used by common tribesmen, insufficiently wealthy to arm themselves with swords. History records pagan Baltic tribesmen from Samogitia going into battle against the Teutonic knights as late as the time of the battle of Grunwald in 1410 A.D. armed with knotted oaken war clubs in which flints had been embedded.

Who was fighting and what the conflict was all about are completely unknown, but the German researchers estimate that at least 200 men must have been killed in the course of a single action.

BBC story

Spiegel German-language article

Spiegel photo slide-show

3:42 German-language video

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