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A Late Bronze Age hoard from Long Bredy, Dorset

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In 2009, a Late Bronze Age hoard was found while metal-detecting in a field in Long Bredy, which was promptly reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (Treasure No. 2009 T649). This hoard consists of a three deliberately broken sword fragments, a late pegged spearhead, a socketed gouge and a bifid razor and dates to the Ewart Park phase (c.1000-800 BC). It is currently held at Dorchester County Museum and I recently had the chance to study it and gain an insight into a hoard that is quite unusual for the area.

Long Bredy hoard (2)

The three sword fragments from different views (Courtesy of the Portable Antiquities Scheme)

The Sword Fragments

The sword fragments consist of a hilt fragment, a refitting piece of the upper blade, and another non-refitting blade fragment. The hilt has broken across a rivet hole in the tang and below the ricasso notches across the upper blade. It has two rivet holes in each rounded shoulder indicating the stylistic properties of a Ewart Park sword. Near the tang breakage are a series of notches, which seem to indicate the chisel marks by which this section was broken, or possibly the method used to remove the organic handle before deposition.

One of the blade fragments refits with the hilt, representing the majority of the upper blade. Both pieces show indicators of bending and when pieced together it is apparent that quite a sharp bend was achieved before the sword snapped. The extent to which a sword might bend and break relies on the quality of the metal and the technique used to achieve this bend. For instance, any casting flaws create natural weak points in the blade, whilst too much pressure too quickly can cause the sword to break without much effort. This breakage appears to be slightly stepped, indicating firstly that it was broken cold, and secondly that it has broken across a natural weakness in the microstructure.

The third blade fragment does not refit with the other two pieces, but shares similar dimensions and properties, indicating that it might have once been from the same sword. The edges of this piece have a series of small notches, dents and chips, which indicate that this sword was used in combat, and suffered edge damage in the process, perhaps against other swords or spears. Interestingly though, there’s no bending or chisel marks that might indicate how this piece became broken from the others.

Long Bredy hoard (4)

The three sword fragments from different views (Courtesy of the Portable Antiquities Scheme)

The Late Pegged Spearhead

The socketed spearhead has a flame-shaped blade and a circular socket and midrib. Two peg-holes in the socket indicate how the spearhead might have been attached when hafted and it is this variety of spearhead that characterises the most common form of spearhead in the Late Bronze Age, often referred to as a  is regarded as a Late Pegged type. It is quite small and likely would have made a good hunting or fighting implement. The spear has suffered damage to the tip, socket and blade edges, but the wooden shaft was found still in situ. The edges are bowed and badly notched, which suggests that object was used forcefully, which could have resulted in the tip and socket breakages.

Long Bredy hoard (3)

Socketed gouge with wooden shaft still in socket (Courtesy of the Portable Antiquities Scheme)

Socketed gouge

The socketed gouge is a typical Late Bronze Age object. It is the only complete object in the hoard and was likely used for a craft activity. The shaft in the socket indicates it was hafted when deposited and there is no reason why this object wouldn’t still be functional, making its inclusion interesting.

Long Bredy hoard (1)

Bent bifid razor (Courtesy of the Portable Antiquities Scheme)

Bifid Razor

The razor is Piggot’s Class ii bifid type, attributed to the Late Bronze and into the Early Iron Age. It has a barbed triangular shaped blade and long squared tang, with a small notch in the tip of the razor, making it typical of the bifid form. Razors are quite uncommon in South West England, though there are about five now known from Dorset, though none from Devon or Cornwall. They appear more frequently in central Southern and Eastern England. The tip of the razor has been bent over to about 115 degrees, and the overall object appears slightly warped. The thin nature of the razor means the warping may have occurred due to soil pressure, though the bending suggests deliberate deformation of the object.

Discussion

Ewart Park hoards are not especially common in Dorset, or indeed in South West England. The association of weapons and tools deposited together is not uncommon and this hoard can be considered typical of the period, though not of the area. Similarly, the scale and composition of the hoard (only 6 objects), makes it difficult to find parallels. Hoards containing a combination of spears, swords, razors, and gouges, are typically much larger (e.g. the Wick Park, Stogursey hoard, Somerset, containing c.145 objects).

Ewart Park swords, considered to be the defining feature of the period, occur only infrequently in Dorset, and so far only two (mostly) complete specimens have been found (one from Cranborne and one from Weymouth). Other discoveries represent only single fragments or pieces as part of a settlement assemblage, such as at Gussage St. Michael. It is consequently difficult to situate this hoard within a wider practice; it appears instead to be a relatively isolated event.

The deliberate damage inflicted upon the sword fragments and razor (i.e. the bending and breaking) is an interesting insight into the processes involved in decommissioning objects and it should be particularly noticed that the majority of the sword is absent, begging the question: what happened to the rest of it? That the sword was deposited incomplete is not unusual, and at present no complete sword has ever been recovered from a dryland deposit in Britain.

It is possible that this sword was destined for recycling and the other pieces had already been remelted. However, the fact that both the spear and socketed gouge were deposited with shafts still in situ discredits this idea, as one cannot remelt an object that is still hafted. It is possible that instead the sword fragments were a symbolic inclusion, representative of the overall object without sacrificing all of the metal to the ground. Additionally, the extensive use demonstrated on the spear and the sword blades indicate these objects may have had a significant use-life prior to deposition, perhaps attaining significance to the owner(s).

The condition of razor warrants further discussion, specifically relating to its state of corrosion. While the other objects in the hoard are covered in a tan-brown patina and corrosion, the razor is covered in a mottled green and brown corrosion, inconsistent with the hoard. There are two possible reasons for this.

  1. The razor may have been deposited wrapped or covered in something different from the rest of the hoard, creating differential corrosion;
  2. The razor may be from an earlier/older deposit that was rediscovered or dug up and the razor was then incorporated into this hoard. While the style of the razor is roughly contemporary with the contents of the hoard, our resolution of this period still operates in wide parameters (up to 200 years) and in this period the razor could easily have been deposited and rediscovered.

It is difficult to say with any certainty which is more likely, however, if the object was wrapped or covered in a material different from the other objects, I would perhaps expect one or more of the other objects to display patches of a similar corrosion.

Summary

The Late Bronze Age hoard from Long Bredy is at present unique in Dorset and South West England with no other assemblage deposit presenting similar characteristics of use, breakage and preservation. It offers interesting insights into the practices occurring at the time, particularly regarding the intensive use and breakage of objects, which was widespread across the country.

Acknowledgements and Notes

Thanks must go to Dorchester County Museum and particularly Nigel Mykura for accommodating my repeated visits over the last few weeks. The online reports by the Portable Antiquities Scheme can be found here.

 

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7 Comments

  1. Katy says:

    Hi Matt, I’m interested to know how you read the biography of the socketed spearhead and gouge. Buried with the complete hafting? Or hafts partially removed (broken, cut…). Katy

    Liked by 1 person

    • mgknight21 says:

      Hi Katy,
      Yes you raise a really valid point – this caused me problems in trying to interpret the hoard. It’s of course difficult to tell to what extent there was still a haft on the object. All we can say for certain is that the wooden shaft preserved in the sockets has survived. It’s probably most likely the shafts broke off (perhaps under pressure?) and were then difficult to remove – especially with the spearhead in the condition it’s in. In their present state, the surviving shaft for the gouge can be removed from the socket, while the shaft for the spearhead appears to have corroded in place. The hoard was a metal-detecting find so it was probably poorly excavated (the PAS and museum records give little indication of how it was extracted), but the context might have held clues (e.g. if it was confined to a pit or stains in the soil that might indicate the decayed hafts). I’m aware there’s a lot of conjecture in all this! I wish I had a more concrete answer for you!
      Matt

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      • Katy says:

        Hi Matt,
        Thanks for getting back to me. I’m always interested in prehistoric tools that have hafting evidence (what with making and using replicas). My mind is slightly boggled by the vision of a hoard comprising items as diverse as broken sword pieces (small) and a spearhead with its long wooden shaft! I’m so used to thinking of hoards in terms of neat groups of axe heads (e.g. Manton Copse) or piles of metal stuff (e.g. Salisbury). Can’t quite believe that a whole spear shaft would be deposited. Has anyone written about possible ancillary hoard items, other than boxes/bags, before? Your PhD timetable is perhaps too short for a long-term taphonomy experiment to explore the decomposition of wooden handles…

        I’m not sure that there’s a good reason for it to have been difficult to extract the wood in the sockets, if the hafting broke. Plenty of tools available to cut the wood out, for example. It might be worth thinking a little around the materiality not only of the bronze, but also the other components of the weapons/tools? Aside from any other considerations, the making of handles/hafts is a skilled investment. I’m sure that wood had just as much significance as other materials.

        Katy

        Liked by 2 people

      • mgknight21 says:

        Hi Katy,
        Thanks for your input! I absolutely agree. I think that it’s likely the materiality extended beyond the bronze, perhaps with the final composite piece being regarded differently from the individual components. It’s unfortunate we will never know, but I like to think about all the composite items we have today that would be pretty useless if we only had the separate components. It’s probable that a spearhead with a shaft had more inherent value than one without a shaft!
        I can’t recall any synthesis pieces of work on ancillary hoard items (though admittedly I haven’t sought them out!) If my knowledge serves me correctly, there’s only 6/7 Bronze Age preserved complete spearshafts currently known from the whole of NW Europe, even though there’s often lots of pieces of hafting material still lodged in metal objects (e.g. axes, spears, tools etc.). I really like the idea of that taphonomy experiment that might gain insight into this – maybe one day!
        Hoards are such an unusual phenomenon – we still have huge amounts to learn and think about!
        Matt

        Liked by 1 person

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ABOUT ME

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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