Rare ancient 3,500-year-old ceremonial dagger

The rare 3,500-year-old ceremonial dagger that was used as a door stop

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An object pulled up by a plow in a field and used to prop open an office door was identified by archaeologists as an extremely rare and valuable Bronze Age ceremonial dagger, known as a dirk, one of only six found in the whole of Europe.

According to a 2014 news report in Norfolk Eastern Daily Press , the artifact was first dug up more than a decade ago by a landowner in East Rudham, Norfolk, but not realising its significance, he used the relic as a door stop. It even came close to being tossed into a skip bin.

The dirk weighs 1.9kg (4lb) and is made from bronze, consisting of nine-tenths copper (most likely from Wales), and one-tenth tin (believed to be from Cornwall). The dagger had been deliberately bent when it was made, indicating that it was never intended to be used as a weapon but rather had a ceremonial role.  Straightened out, it would be 68cm long.

Only five other Bronze Age dirks have been found in Europe, including the well-known Oxborough Dirk, found in 1988 and now on display in the British Museum.

The Oxborough dirk

The Oxborough dirk. Credit: British Museum

Like the newly-identified Rudham Dirk, the Oxborough Dirk was also an accidental find. “A man walking in woods near Oxborough literally stumbled across this dirk in 1988. It had been thrust vertically into soft peaty ground nearly 3,500 years ago, but erosion had exposed the hilt-plate, which caught his toe,” writes the British Museum.

The Oxborough Dirk was similarly never intended for use as a weapon. “The edges of the blade are very neatly fashioned, but deliberately blunt and no rivet holes were ever provided at the butt for attaching a handle in the customary manner. The dirk was evidently never intended to be functional in any practical way. Instead, it was probably designed for ceremonial use, or as a means of storing wealth,” the British Museum adds.

The four other dirks were found in continental Europe – two from the Netherlands and two from France. All six Bronze Age dirks are so similar in their style and execution, that it is believed they were all made in the same workshop.

Left: Dirk found in France (Wikipedia). Right: Dirk found in the Netherlands

Left: Dirk found in France ( Wikipedia). Right: Dirk found in the Netherlands ( Wikipedia).

The Rudham Dirk was purchased by Norfolk Museum Services for £41,000, and is now on display in Norwich Castle Museum. Sophie Cabot, president of the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society, said: “We’re really excited - it would have been a great shame if we’d have lost it.”

Featured image: Dr Tim Pestell with the Bronze Age dirk, which was ceremonially bent when it was made. Photo: Steve Adams

By April Holloway

Comments

I remembered I had some pictures of swords of that era and blades were made both with the handle as part of the cast and the ones pictured here , that require a whole separate handle assembly. So that question is taken care of .

After reflecting on the photographs for a day I have a few questions floating around in my head. The blade appears to actually be a sword and not a dirk, which is another term for a dagger. The other thing is the butt end , even if holes were drilled to hold handles in place it is too wide to be hand held. These blades appear to be casts of swords without handles. The outward flare of the butt ends are consistent with being deflection guards for the hand holding it. Normally, there would be a protrusion behind that flare to be wrapped or otherwise fashioned into a handle. I wonder if these are no more than "sample" blades distributed throughout the lands by a central manufacturer to attract buyers. Whoever made these was a true master or a team of masters and I think the kind of consistency of quality only comes from having produced these in large numbers.

Awesomely beautiful ! What a wonderful testament of industrial design by Bronze age people. As you know , bronze is way softer than any ferrous metal so that had to be taken into account. That raised ribbing within the perimeter of the blade not only looks way cool but adds strength to the knife. After pouring the bronze into the mold it would be beaten to cause what is known as "work hardening". This made the metal a bit brittle but also hard enough to hold an edge. These blades shown were ceremonial and I wonder if they were hardened as well or purposely left soft. Any any rate, very impressive!

rbflooringinstall's picture

What an incredible find! Its a good thing it wasn't destroyed or tossed away.

Peace and Love,

Ricky.

Justbod's picture

What a beautiful object and a fortunate (re) discovery. Do you know how the owner become aware of what it really was?

Sculptures, carvings & artwork inspired by a love of history & nature: www.justbod.co.uk

 

 

 

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