A Life In Fragments

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Point Break: A Broken Sword at Salisbury Museum

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You’ll be disappointed to hear that it’s only a quick post from me this time in my desperate attempt to keep up with myself! But never fear, there shall be a lengthy epic in the next couple of weeks! I had been eagerly awaiting my trip to Salisbury Museum for some time – Salisbury is a veritable goldmine of prehistoric material, sitting in the heart of Stonehenge Land (once Disney are done with Star Wars and Marvel, I’m pretty certain this is going to be their next venture) and their possession of a good chunk of Dorset material meant I had a valid excuse to go and enjoy myself in a new place!

Anyone with a suspicion that I am in fact doing this PhD because it’s an excuse to go on a 3-year museum tour of Southern England may be onto something…

Anyone with a suspicion that I am in fact doing this PhD because it’s an excuse to go on a 3-year museum tour of Southern England may be onto something…

Greeted by the lovely Valerie Goodrich (Museum Assistant) and replenished after my early morning train journey from Exeter with tea and biscuits, I sat to examine the metalwork. The Salisbury material being so vast in number (they have over 2000!!! pieces of Bronze Age metalwork in their collection), I had to be rather select and I had managed to whittle down their database to a solid thirteen objects, restricted by time, cost, relevance to my project, and essentially what I was and was not allowed to touch.

Even I can't go behind this glass.

Even I can’t go behind this glass.

The metalwork I examined at Salisbury is all a little bit quirky and unique, not necessarily in terms of fragmentation, but just generally. From a hoard found in Portland, Dorset, I saw four of the eleven individually crafted axes seemingly never intended for use and deposited in their “as-cast” state.

SSWM-F001 (1)

A bracelet from Helston, Cornwall, showed signs of having been elaborately decorated and cared for before returned to the earth

SSWM-F008 (5)

while an early form of palstave demonstrated some of the unfortunate work of antiquarians making early discoveries, having been scrubbed clean and chemically stripped in order to reveal the original bronze colour and thereby making interpretation of surface details problematic.

Shiny, but wrong.

Shiny, but wrong.

Of particular significance to my PhD, I was able to identify a Late Bronze Age (Ewart Park) sword fragment from Weymouth that had been deliberately snapped in half… probably.

SSWM-F002 (2)

The sword demonstrated only minimal signs of use, though u-shaped notches along the blade edge are often linked with having been struck against (or withstanding the blow of) an opposing bladed implement, and it is the yielding nature of the impact that creates a u-shaped notch.

Another notch on my PhD belt...

Another notch on my PhD belt…

If the sword is unyielding (i.e. held static), it produces a characteristic v-shaped notch. Only about half of the sword remains, consisting most of the lower blade and the tip, while the other half (i.e. the upper blade and handle) is absent.

I mentioned in my last post about the associated characteristics I look for when dealing with broken objects and in the case of this sword, and many of the other longer fragments of sword in England, the breaking point is bent. Closer inspection of the breakage showed no casting flaws that might influence the object to break at this point, and it is difficult to conceive how the sword might bend to the point of snapping by accident. This, therefore, leads me to conclude that it is more likely this sword was broken with intent, than, for instance, through use.

SSWM-F002 (5)

Entirely up to you if you agree or disagree with my logic at this stage – by 2017/8 I should be able to tell you more conclusively and then I’ll have to find something else to do with my time! But for now, I still have many more museums to explore, and many more important questions to answer…

Such as which hat should I wear???

Such as which hat should I wear???

I chose wisely.

I chose wisely.


A massive thank you to Valerie Goodrich and Jane Ellis-Schön for taking the time to show and discuss the various objects with me. All object photos are courtesy of Salisbury Museum.

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I’m Matt, 26 years old, a glutton for academic punishment, a lover of all things Bronze Age, always willing to continue talking even when my friends have lost interest, and never happy unless overwhelming busy. Find out more here and be sure to follow me on Twitter @mgknight24 and Facebook

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