Scientists Sword Fight for Science to Solve Debate Over Ancient Bronze Warfare
Bronze swords have been "the thing" for some centuries, used across Europe from 1600 BCE to 600 BCE to be exact, and they've been found all over through graves, rivers, and bogs. These swords are made of a mixture of copper and tin; however, since the alloy is so soft and easy to mangle, historians were puzzled whether these swords were battlefield tools or mere status symbols.
Well, what's better than to battle it out in case of sword fighting?
A team of archaeologists staged modern fights with bronze swords to measure the resulting microscopic wear and tear and solved the mystery as to how swords were used in Bronze Age warfare and revealed how different fighting techniques spread across Europe.
Researchers had a weaponsmith create seven middle to late Bronze Age swords using traditional methods, then tested them out with the help of local experts.
In order to test out their new toys, the team planned a series of blade-on-blade blows and strikes on shields and spears. By asking members of a medieval dueling club to use the news weapons in ways described in medieval combat manuals, they recorded the marks left on the new bronze swords.
The researchers analyzed the marks and indents and compared them to a close-up study of 110 ancient Bronze Age swords found across Great Britain and Italy. By doing so, they saw that the traces of the mock battles matched the real combat techniques.
So, yes; it turns out that while bronze alloys are soft, easy to damage, and hard to repair, they could survive the heat of the battle, and weren't just ceremonial items.
Moreover, they were able to map out the evolution in sword fighting style across Britain and Italy from the late 2nd to the early 1st millennium BCE.
This way, the researchers were able to assign wear patterns to specific sword moves and combinations. Much like retracing the moves of a dance choreography, the researchers were able to note the fighting styles developed as well-practiced techniques over Europe.
Archaeologist Barry Molloy from University College Dublin in Ireland told Science, “We’ve only recently started to think of these as more personal possessions and look at how actual individuals were using weapons. This is a turning point — it lets us study what kind of actions were avoided and what risks you could take with a bronze sword. This shows that yes, they were used, and they were used skillfully.”