The talented Dr H from prehistories kindly joined the North Wiltshire Branch of the Young Archaeologists’ Club in October. Led by Dr H, the morning’s drawing activities focused on some objects from the group’s handling collection. The children did a great job and really enjoyed working on comic books and strips to tell stories inspired by the artefacts. I’ve inked up my effort on the sword from the Guilsfield Hoard.
…to observe that photographs accompanying museum online catalogue entries often don’t show you the one thing you most want to see. Nothing beats studying and handling the objects themselves. A case in point are cast copper alloy artefacts. Blades, such as Bronze Age swords and daggers, are always photographed longitudinally. This makes it very difficult to pick out clues about the casting methods that were used to make the objects.
When I started to clean up the sword (see previous blog post) the first thing I did was to remove the pouring cup from the hilt and the little spur of bronze from the tip of the blade. During the casting the molten metal was poured, vertically, from the crucible into the pouring cup. When Neil Burridge made the sword mould he included a little channel continuing from the tip for about 2cm, to ensure that the molten metal ran all the way down to the bottom of the sword tip during the pour.
I used a hacksaw to remove the pouring cup and spur, but following some filing and grinding it is only the pouring cup scar that remains. With more work, this too will become harder to see. And this will finally be covered by a grip. There is a palstave axe on display at the Corinium Museum which still has a slight visible scar.
Were blades like this sword cast from the tip or the hilt? Having studied these objects in close detail, Neil concludes that at first they were cast from the tip; but that as the Bronze Age proceeded, casting moved to the hilt.
Whilst it is likely that in the Bronze Age waste metal was gathered up for recycling, I still have the pouring cup.
My current task is a new experience for me. I have finally got round to start the finishing of a copy of a later Bronze Age sword, cast by Neil Burridge for a Young Archaeologists’ Club meeting a good while back.
The sword still had its pouring cup attached, as well as flash and casting marks. The sword was cast vertically, through the hilt. Not being a proficient Bronze Age metal-worker, I used a hacksaw to remove the pouring cup and a file to remove the flash, followed by some simple polishing to start to bring out the shine of the blade. There’s a great deal more to do, to do the job properly.
On his website, Neil gives some indication of the unknowns in Bronze Age sword production. Despite the very large volume of bronze circulating in objects such as swords, daggers, axe-heads and so on during the Middle to Late Bronze Age, and the archaeological literature that categorises all these finds and their copper alloys, it is true to say that relatively little is understood about the detail of the casters’ techniques.
Neil shows how a practitioner’s experience, built up over the years, is an essential component in understanding past practices. It is hard enough to hacksaw, file and polish the sword blade in my workshop. What were the Bronze Age tools used to complete these tasks? This is but one of many questions. I shall explore some of them in future blog posts about this sword.