It’s history show-and-tell time again. Construction workers in England have dug up another amazing treasure, this time in preparations to build a soccer field. Among the loot: a near-perfectly preserved bronze-age sword and spearhead with gold worked into the metal.
This stuff is magic to me. I have half a mind to spend a month roaming around England kicking up random patches of soil. I’m sure they would welcome that.
This find is old, old, old. The bronze-age sword and sheath are about three thousand years old. That’s two thousand years before Beowulf was written. Well before even the Greek golden age. The world population was 50 million at the time.
Even crazier is the discovery on the same site of the remains of a Neolithic hall that could date back as far as six thousand years.
That’s nuts. That hall was built when dragons roamed the countryside and Athena was birthing herself out of Zeus’s head.
I get the biggest kick out of the bronze age sword they found. I’ve had a fondness for old weapons and the records of how they evolved over time.
A Bronze Age sword (and, well, bronze) was an alloy of copper and tin. As you can imagine, they were not the most reliable of weapons. But you stab people with the sword you have, not the sword you want to have. Bronze swords would more often bend than break. Some historians have suggested that the bending was intentionally built into the design to prevent shattering.
Iron swords began to appear around the 12th century B.C., but they weren’t much better at first. There are several accounts of soldiers having to straighten out their iron swords with their foot after striking an opponent’s shield.
Bill and Tom are defending their Celtic village from an attacking barbarian horde. Bill notices Tom straightening out his sword with his foot while blocking strikes with his shield.
Bill: Hey Tom, still stuck using that 12th century BC model?
Tom: I sure am, Bill. It’s great at cleaving through skulls, but get it stuck in a ribcage or a shield? Forget it. Bends like a tree branch.
Bill slices off the arm of an attacker. His sword looks great.
Bill: You’ve gotta try one of these new steel swords. It’s 3rd century BC stuff, but I got an advance model.
Tom: Steel, you say?
Bill: That’s right. Just get your smith to add a little charcoal to the iron during smelting, and voilà! You’re on your way.
Tom: That’s awesome! But I don’t think we’re saying “voilà” yet, are we? It’s the ancient past.
Bill: We’re not saying “awesome” yet either.
Tom: Good point. Let’s get back to it.
(Tom died in the battle. Bill survived, but his children were eaten by wolves.)
Steel showed up during the latter Iron age when smiths learned to add carbon (in the form of charcoal) to the smelting process. Steel was the way to go. We’re still using it today. If society collapses to the point where you’re stuck using ancient technology again, you’ll definitely want to get your hands on some steel.
So… once again I’ve introduced a complicated topic and reduced it to a few paragraphs, but that’s show and tell. And NOW you know not to spend your hard-earned money on bronze weapons. My work is done.
A bit of trivia for you: ancient Persian foot soldiers used wicker shields. Wicker. With maybe a bit of leather attached. Imagine going into battle with one of your grandmother’s porch chairs strapped to your arm.