More than swords?

Yesterday, two of the project’s PhDs visited the sword exhibition Vlijmscherp Verleden (Cutting-edge History) at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden. The museum has the largest archaeological sword collection in the country, including several of the earliest swords which are of great interest to the EoD project. The exhibition displays a great variety of swords dating from prehistory until recent times and coming from different parts of the world.

The exhibition begins with a chronological overview of swords starting from the earliest weapons. These predecessors of swords include flint and copper daggers. The earliest swords in the Netherlands are the short swords of Sögel-Wohlde type, dating to the Middle Bronze Age. The picture below illustrates the development of swords from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age. A Sögel sword can be seen in the upper right corner.

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The exhibition also sheds light on the production, use and meaning of swords in prehistory. Starting with acquisition of the raw material (tin and copper) and the production process, to the different usage of the swords (in combat or as status object), and ending with the different ways in which they were treated when they were deposited in wet or dry contexts or in graves (breaking or bending). Especially rivers appeared to have played a special role in these deposition practices as numerous swords have been found in rivers. The picture below shows several elements of the production process of swords.

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The highlight of the exhibition – in our opinion – are the “magical swords”, the six swords of the Plougrescant-Ommerschans type. These swords come from France, England and the Netherlands and they are very similar, suggesting that they come from the same workshop. Some of the swords might even come from the same mould. For the first time since they were manufactured 3500 years ago, the swords are reunited. The swords were unsharpened, too large and too heavy for use and do not have any rivet holes; indeed, they were never used in combat. They were deposited in rivers and swamps. Clearly, these swords had a very special significance. The pictures below show these six “magical swords” in the exhibition.

These are just a few examples of the fascinating objects in the exhibition. The exhibition will end 2nd October 2016.

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