This week we have a Nerd Corner guest post from Dr. Rachel Crellin. It’s not medical, but it’s about bronze weapons – which is equally as cool! If you enjoy this post, pop on over to the Nerd Corner archive and check out what Kris Childers-Buschle has to say about tuberculosis!
So Brie asked me to attempt to write a bit of a blog about some of the things I do. I’ve not blogged for a long while, and certainly never written a serious blog post before, but for Brie I’d do anything!
I’m an archaeologist and a prehistorian. I do lots of archaeological theory where I think about how we understand and describe the past. I am also a metal-wear analyst which means I carry out experiments with metals and I study prehistoric metal objects to try and work out how they were made and how and why they might have been used. My research is pretty varied but I have to admit to more than a passing obsession with BRONZE! Bronze is great. It is shiny and sharp and captivating. One of the projects I am involved in is the Bronze Age Combat Project. This, more than a little mad, project aims to investigate combat in the latter half of the Bronze Age in Britain and Ireland (c.1500-800BC). The Bronze Age *shock horror* is marked by the first use of bronze: and it gets everywhere in the form of halberds, swords, spearheads, shields and (mostly) axes (I love axes)!
Bronze has often been seen as a weak material, especially when we compare it to modern steel. When we think of bronze today we might think of beautiful jewellery or stunning sculptures – as a result some archaeologists have suggested that Bronze Age bronze is best associated with prestige and beauty rather than a utilitarian or multi-functional tool or a deadly weapon! From the Middle Bronze Age onwards a diverse range of weapons begin to appear in the archaeological record. Were these weapons used in genuine anger by a violent society? Or where they items of prestige for display by a developing elite? For a long time archaeologists seemed uneasy about addressing the potentially violent nature of our own past – which is another reason that these weapons are often more readily associated with the manoeuvrings of elites for political power rather than murderous killing sprees!
The Bronze Age Combat Project is designed to begin to address this question. It works in a two-fold way, firstly we got a lot of replica weapons made: swords, spears, axes, leather shields and even a bronze shield! They were accurately re-produced by a bronze smith using traditional techniques and proportions of copper and tin, they were work hardened and sharpened to give functional edges. We designed a set of experiments to test these weapons in various combat scenarios – sword on sword parries, spear throws, sword and spear stabs, sword on spear parries and many more besides! Each one of these combat scenarios was broken down into individual moves, each move was carried out and then all the marks that the combat manoeuvers left on the weapons were recorded first in the field and then, more accurately, in the lab. These experiments are creating a reference collection which in the long run will be available online for others to use, share, enjoy(?). Now with our reference collection in our back pocket we are setting out to use it as the basis to look at prehistoric weapons to understand whether they were truly used!
The project is far from complete, but I know that you are all desperate to know what weapons you need and how to use them in case you get transported back in time to the Bronze Age…
First off, you want a bronze shield – before the experiments I thought that this shield would fail woefully but as it turns out these are tough old beasts! We threw spears at them and stabbed and attacked them with spears and swords, and whilst we could indeed bend it, we could not break it! You might be inclined to want a sword to go with your shield – I can see why, swords look cool. I would advise against this. In our experiments when two people truly clashed swords, and the ‘defender’ fought back, massive notches appeared in the sword, but worse still they bent A LOT:
…with cracks and fissures often appearing in the surface of the swords! You can always bend a sword back again, but over time it weakens and you will have to re-heat and re-work it to make it strong again. Protecting your blade from the clashes and blows of your opponent would be high on your agenda if you were to be a Bronze Age warrior.
The spear however, is a different story! The spear won’t let you down. Mounted on a short shaft, you can throw it and stab with it, but you can also use it in more diverse ways to parry away the attacks of a sword. You can use the shaft to bop people, to ward them away, and to give you extra reach to attack from a safe distance. We worked a lot with spears and we were able to use them to effectively defend and fight, and whilst they did suffer damage there are none that are so damaged as to be un-useable, and even those that had their sockets bent, or their shafts broken could still be mounted back onto a fresh shaft in the twinkling of an eye.
Dr. Rachel Crellin is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Leicester working on a project entitled “New materials, new worlds: understanding the uses of Bronze Age axes.” Dr. Crellin hails from the Isle of Man and has a penchant for wearing the color mustard. If you want to know more about Bronze Age weapons (or anything else Manxy and/or Archaeological) feel free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org!