This week I had the absolute pleasure of working with the excellent bronzesmith, Neil Burridge, down in Cornwall and finally embarking on some of my experimental work. I know I’ve been alluding to it for quite some time, though I’ve never actually explained what it is I’m trying to achieve and how.
My last post elaborated some of my thought processes that are guiding me through my PhD at present and how I’ve ended up at an experimental standpoint, so I won’t go into that aspect too much. To summarise, I’m basically interested in how a Bronze Age individual might have deformed and damaged their implements, be that an axe, spear, sword, bracelet etc.
Funding Gods be praised, I’m lucky enough to be able to commission replica bronze objects and subject them to a range of experimental destructive practices. Deciding exactly what I want to make and destroy has been a tremendously difficult decision, which is influenced by: firstly, what is found destroyed in the archaeological record; and secondly, my study area (namely South West England).
The South West is perhaps not the most obvious region in which to look for destruction, especially given the vast quantities of damaged metalwork from areas such as South East England and North-Western France, as well as the Thames Valley. However, the South West has small pockets of single and hoarded fragments scattered throughout, which is quite evident from my innumerable museum visits. These concentrations of material have helped guide my experimental decisions and so at present I’m aiming to make, use and destroy a range of socketed axes, such as those seen in recent fragmented Cornish hoards, barbed spearheads, such as those from the Bloody Pool, and swords. Here I’ll elaborate on features of this last object, and save the others for future posts.
A Bronze Age sword is an obvious selection for these experiments. They are deposited in a myriad of contexts and found in a diverse variety of conditions from pristine through to broken, bent and burnt (or as I like to call them: the 3 B’s). Ewart Park swords are a particularly prolific weapon in Late Bronze Age Britain, so the decision to go for this implement was easy. Plus they are incredibly beautiful killing objects.
The sword Neil and I chose to replicate is the Ewart Park type found in one of the hoards from St. Erth, Cornwall. This sword was deposited in four refitting pieces, making up the hilt and upper blade of the sword, though about 70% of the lower blade is absent. This clearly represents a deliberate undertaking, not only in terms of breakage, but also in terms of what was deposited i.e. where is the rest of the sword?
The hilt is quite prominently flanged and possesses only four quite small rivet holes: two in the tang and one in each shoulder. The position and number of rivet holes, as well as the form of the hilt, varies drastically across Ewart Park, which likely has something to do with aesthetics and personal preference, but also the skill of the smith. This piece is increasingly interesting as the blade has a flattened midrib – a feature I’ve never come across on a Ewart Park sword, making me suspect this is a Cornish variant on the typical style. Whether this midrib held functional properties or was purely aesthetic is up for debate.
All this combined makes it a fascinating specimen and I was excited to work with Neil to produce not one, but two replicas. Neil really is an expert in his field: the sandcastings went off without a hitch and the swords came out beautifully, ready to be worked.
Over the following two days, I had the privilege of watching Neil work his magic, transforming the swords into true replicas, fitting them with ash wood handles and pommels.
Soon they will be engaged in a variety of combat experiments for the purpose of observing the types of damage that might be inflicted through use, before I intend to explore a variety of methods to execute the 3 B’s. Holding them in my hands, it already feels heart-wrenching that I’m intending to destroy them. Everyone I speak to is in uproar at the thought and I can’t help but agree.
For now, they shall adorn my desk, attracting much attention from the rest of the department, and I shall put off moving my experiments to the next step for as long as possible! There are still spears and axes to produce so I’ve got a few more weeks with them yet.
I seriously cannot thank Neil enough for the replicas he’s produced and is intending to produce on my behalf. I urge everyone to go and visit his Facebook page: Bronze Age Swords, or website: www.Bronze-age-swords.com, to see the stunning work he does on an everyday basis.