The Racton Dagger, the earliest dated bronze object ever found in Britain

Earliest bronze dagger ever found in Britain rediscovered with ancient chieftain

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Now dubbed by the media as the ‘Bronze Age superman,’ the remains of a prominent member of prehistoric society were excavated from fields in the hamlet of Racton in 1989, after resting under farmland for 4,200 years. The remains stayed in storage until 2012, awaiting the post-excavation examinations unavailable in previous decades. Researchers have now put the skeleton and his grave goods on display at The Novium Museum in Chichester, after revisiting the old find with modern forensic techniques and confirming its significance.  According to The Guardian, the dagger is the “earliest securely dated bronze object ever found in Britain.”

Racton Man’s virtually-complete skeleton

Racton Man’s virtually-complete skeleton was found on farmland in the hamlet of Racton, near Chichester, West Sussex, in 1989. The remains date back more than 4,000 years. Image generously provided by The Novium Musuem. ©The Novium, Chichester District Council.

This Racton ‘superman’ would have towered over his peers, and probably outlived them as well. According to Archaeology News Network , examinations revealed the ancient man was at least 6ft (182cm) in height, a size considered very tall for the time. Until his death, which seemed to come as a result of sword blows as indicated by cuts to his bones, the man had lived into his late 40s, longer than the average life expectancy. He seemed in robust health, only suffering some age-related arthritis, a chronic sinus infection, a tooth abscess, and dental decay. The Scottish Universities Environmental Research center performed radiocarbon dating on the bones and teeth and found that he died between 2,150 B.C. and 2,300 B.C. Isotope analysis of the man’s teeth revealed he was not from the Racton area, but instead from the English West Country, or even Brittany or Ireland.

James Kenny speaks about Racton Man, at The Novium in Chichester

Beyond his stature and age, what makes this find rare is his blade. The weapon found carefully buried near Racton Man’s head is described as a bronze dagger with an intricate, rivet-studded handle of bone or horn. It was constructed with cutting-edge technology of the time. That it was buried with him indicated he may have been a tribal chieftain, as such a dagger would have been very valuable. Not simply ceremonial however, the dagger had been sharpened, and probably saw much use.

James Kenny, the Chichester District Council archaeologist who discovered the skeleton in 1989, says of the Racton find, “The fact that this man had a bronze dagger would have been incredibly rare then. This would have been right at the start of the introduction of this type of technology,” reports The Independent .  

The Racton dagger had a rare rivet-studded hilt

The Racton dagger had a rare rivet-studded hilt, and was not ceremonial as it had been sharpened for use. Image generously provided by The Novium Musuem. ©The Novium, Chichester District Council.

The Guardian details the dagger and how it was crafted, noting “the copper in the bronze was also a rare type in Britain known as arsenic-only copper, which may have been specially prized because, although they couldn’t have understood the chemistry, the higher the arsenic content the harder the eventual bronze. The copper was probably imported, but the workmanship of the dagger was British.”

Stuart Needham, renowned expert on Bronze Age metalwork, says discovering such an ancient bronze dagger with a skeleton to confirm the dating is a great find with national and European importance.

A dig was carried out in the 1980s after metal fragments and then bones were detected. Image generously provided by The Novium Musuem

A dig was carried out in the 1980s after metal fragments and then bones were detected. Image generously provided by The Novium Musuem. ©The Novium, Chichester District Council.

2014 has seen several unique dagger finds, with a 3,500-year old ceremonial dirk being rescued from use as a doorstop, and the discovery of incredible microscopic gold work on a Bronze-Age dagger handle.

This ancient Racton leader and his dagger are on display at The Novium Museum in Chichester, West Sussex, England. The museum is now free entry, and highlights the social history, archaeology, and geology of the district.

Featured Image:  The Racton Dagger, the earliest dated bronze object ever found in Britain. Image generously provided by The Novium Musuem. ©The Novium, Chichester District Council.

By Liz Leafloor


Here we go again. They say they sat on the remains for years, waiting for technology to provide accurate data and then when they go ahead and do their investigations the best they offer is " stood at least six foot tall". Is this because it is unimportant relative to the bronze dagger or do they want to sweep some facts under the rug?  The man could have stood 6'6" or seven foot and they could technically say they told the truth as he DID stand atleast 6 feet tall. They could and probably did calculate his stature almost exactly, and seeing science is made out of details it needs to be known. Any body know more details about these findings?

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