Art / Politics

The Kirkburn Sword

“Probably the finest Iron Age sword in Europe” according to the British Museum.




Iron Age, 300-200 BC
From a burial at Kirkburn, East Yorkshire, England

At this time in the Iron Age (300-200 BC) few people were buried in graves when they died. However, East Yorkshire was an exception and this sword was found in a grave excavated by British Museum archaeologists in 1987. It was buried with a man who was in his late 20s or early 30s when he died. He was an old man; very few Iron Age men lived to be older than 35 to 40. The man was placed in the grave in a crouched position with his knees pulled toward his chest. The sword and scabbard were positioned behind his back. As part of the burial rite, the remains of a pig were placed on the man’s chest. As a final act before the grave was filled in, three spears were thrust into his chest as part of the funeral ritual.

The iron blade of a sword needed great time and skill to make and the sword as a whole is an incredibly complicated weapon and piece of art. The handle of this sword is unusually elaborate. It is made of thirty-seven different pieces of iron, bronze and horn. After it was assembled, the handle was decorated with red glass. The sword was carried in a scabbard made from iron and bronze. The polished bronze front plate was decorated with a La Tène style scroll pattern, and with red glass studs and insets.

The sword was clearly a valued object. The scabbard had been damaged and was repaired some time after it had been made, which might have been many years before it was placed in the grave with its final owner.

The Warrior’s Grave…

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