2 early Iron Age swords found in Bavaria

(ORDO NEWS) — This weapon was made 2800 years ago, at a time when the traditions and technologies of the Bronze Age were gradually leaving, giving way to iron.

Two extremely rare examples of early Iron Age edged weapons were discovered during the construction of a new fire station in the city of Andechs in southern Germany. At a depth of less than 40 centimeters below the surface of the earth, the builders found two swords and fragments of three ceramic vessels.

Further work was carried out by archaeologists from the Bavarian Office for the Protection of Monuments (Munich). They determined that the swords were items of grave goods. In total, eight burials were excavated on the construction site: two of them, among other things, contained swords.

2 early Iron Age swords found in Bavaria 2
An iron sword of a new type, but still without the pommel characteristic of Hallstatt

The finds date back to the 8th century BC and are artifacts of the Hallstatt archaeological culture, which is usually associated with the Celts.

Their length is different and is 76 and 66 centimeters, and the width is six centimeters. German archaeologists suggest that the shorter one was used as a piercing weapon in foot combat, but the rider could also use the longer one, inflicting piercing and chopping blows.

Although the swords have been attributed to approximately the same period, their shape still differs slightly.

One of them, earlier, was made of iron, but in form and design it repeats the previous bronze samples. But the second, a little later, already has an adapted design that allows you to use the advantages of iron. It is thinner, so its blade does not dull as quickly as thicker samples.

And this is just considered a characteristic feature of the early Hallstatt culture, whose representatives made the transition from bronze to iron. The chronological framework of Hallstatt has been the subject of scientific discussion for more than a century; there is no consensus among scientists on this issue.

At the end of the 2nd millennium BC, peculiar forms of material culture (Hallstatt) appeared in Central Europe and on the eastern coast of the Adriatic, which were fully developed in 900-400 BC.

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An earlier sword: already made of iron, but made by the master on the model of bronze

All Hallstatt swords made before about 800 BC were bronze. Then the Europeans learned the secrets of ferrous metallurgy, and iron blades appeared. In this sense, the find of German archaeologists (or is it builders?) is unique.

It just demonstrates the problem of the transition from bronze to iron: the material and technology are already new, but the gunsmith’s thinking is still old.

However, it must be said that there is a sufficient number of bronze Hallstatt swords made after the advent of iron. As some scholars suggest, this is a ritual weapon, but many are inclined to believe that iron blades were more expensive and not accessible to everyone.

Admittedly, this question has not yet been fully clarified. For example, in Rome during the period of the republic, swords continued to be made of bronze, although it is difficult to suspect a lack of funds for arming the Romans.

Hallstatt blades are always double-edged and with stiffeners. A characteristic moment – the handle in the middle has a slight thickening, from which it tapers in both directions. Most likely, this was done in order to make it convenient to fasten the handle decorations – this is noted in most of the finds.

In a later period, Hallstatt swords are still distinguished by a very peculiar pommel – two curls, because of which they received the nickname “antenna”. On samples from Bavaria, there is no such feature yet.

But the hilt of at least one of the found swords was decorated. After the restorers cleaned the objects, they managed to find traces of a horn on the shank (the metal part from the guard to the pommel) of one of them.

Perhaps the upper lining of the handle was horn. Also, two of the four rivets that held, presumably, the horn plates, have been preserved.

Since no such remnants of fastening are visible on the other sword, restorers and archaeologists believe that the upper plate was attached using resin glue. It is no longer possible to trace what material it was made of.

On both blades, the remains of a multi-layered linen and cord were also found. Apparently, the swords were wrapped in cloth, tied with a cord and placed in the grave. It should be noted that in the burials of Hallstatt there are not many examples of finds of military weapons (great value, in contrast to ceremonial ones).

Most likely, this suggests that only some people were buried with blades – rulers or the most distinguished warriors.


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