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The Viking weaver’s sword found at the South Main Street dig in Cork

1,000-year-old Viking Sword in Extraordinary Condition Discovered in Ireland

A 1,000-year-old wooden Viking weaver’s sword has been unearthed by archaeologists at the historic site of the former Beamish and Crawford brewery in Cork city, Ireland. Experts describe the sword as an artifact of “exceptional significance.”

Perfectly Preserved Viking Sword Discovered in Ireland

As The Irish Times report , the Viking sword was discovered in great condition, a fact that made archaeologists particularly happy. According to information available so far, the valuable finding is just over 30cm ()12 inches in length, made entirely from yew, and it features carved human faces typical of the Ringerike style of Viking art, dating back to the late 11 th century. The Viking artifacts were discovered in May, but they were officially announced only recently, following an informal visit to the Cork Public Museum by the Norwegian Ambassador to Ireland, Else Berit Eikeland.

Else Berit Eikeland (center) at King of the Vikings Exhibit, Waterford, Ireland

Else Berit Eikeland (center) at King of the Vikings Exhibit, Waterford, Ireland (Image: kingofthevikings)

Dr. Maurice Hurley, a consultant archaeologist and leader of the dig at the site, described the sword as one of a handful of artifacts of "exceptional significance" uncovered during recent excavation works at the South Main Street site. Also found were untouched ground plans of 19 Viking residences, relics of central hearths and bedding material. "For a long time there was a belief that the strongest Viking influence was on Dublin and Waterford, but the full spectrum of evidence shows that Cork was in the same cultural sphere and that its development was very similar," he said as The Irish Times reported .  "A couple of objects similar to the weaver’s sword have been found in Wood Quay, but nothing of the quality of craftsmanship and preservation of this one," he added.

The hilt of the 30cm long Viking weaving tool (BAM Ireland)

The hilt of the 30cm (12 inches) long Viking weaving tool (BAM Ireland)

Dr. Hurley appeared pleasantly surprised about the fact that the several wooden items had survived underground in such a great condition. “It’s quite miraculous,” he said as The Irish Times report . Additionally, he suggests that the sword was used mainly by women for daily tasks, "The sword was used probably by women, to hammer threads into place on a loom; the pointed end is for picking up the threads for pattern-making,” he said.

A Remarkable Sword Find

Despite the immense archaeological and historical value of the recent discovery, this is not the first time such an old Viking sword has discovered.

Last month, a hunting party found an incredibly well-preserved metal Viking sword laying openly in rocks high in the hills in Norway. The approximately 1100-year-old blade was rusty but otherwise in almost pristine condition due to the quality of the iron and the extreme cold conditions of where it was found.

The Viking sword, dated to c. AD 850-950.

The Viking sword, dated to c. AD 850-950. ( Espen Finstad, Secrets of the Ice/ Oppland County Council )

As April Holloway reported in a previous Ancient Origins article , a team of hunters tracking geese in Skaftárhreppur, South Iceland, discovered a 1,000-year-old Viking sword lying completely exposed in the sand almost a year ago. The double-edged sword was of extraordinary condition considering its age. The sword was then passed to The Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland, which carried out further testing and preservation work on the sword.

1,000-year-old sword found in Iceland

1,000-year-old sword found in Iceland Credit: Árni Björn Valdimarsson

Such finds are rare but you are far more likely to come across a metal sword that is 1000 or more years old than a wooden one. That said, earlier this month Ancient Origins reported on two small, wooden, Roman era swords , aged at least 1600 years, that had been well-preserved sealed earth at Vindolanda, England. These are thought to be toy swords and the quality of handicraft does not match that of the new find.

One of the ancient toy wooden swords, with a gemstone in its pommel ( The Vindolanda Trust )

Viking swords often had handles that were richly decorated with intricate designs in silver, copper, and bronze. The higher the status of the individual that yielded the sword, the more elaborate the grip. Dr. Hurley appears to agree with the general consensus as he said about the newly discovered sword, “It’s highly decorated - the Vikings decorated every utilitarian object," The Irish Times report .

It is not just the marked difference in the workmanship which shows this to be a weaver’s sword, but also other items found in the vicinity, which include a wooden thread-winder carved with two horses’ heads, also associated with fabric weaving.

The human head carved at the end of the hilt (Image: BAM Ireland)

The human head carved at the end of the hilt (Image: BAM Ireland)

Lord Mayor of Cork Describes Holding the Sword as a “Magical” Experience

An exuberant Tony Fitzgerald, Lord Mayor of Cork, described his experience holding a Viking sword that had been hidden for almost a millennium as something magical. “The moisture on the dagger was fresh; it was in perfect condition,” he said as The Irish Times reported , while he also made a bold prediction that there will be “a very strong public interest” when the items go on display, which could be as early as February 2018.

Ultimately, the valuable Viking remains are currently undergoing post-excavation examination by conservationists at the National Museum of Ireland. Curator of Cork Public Museum Daniel Breen expressed his interest to direct an exhibition on the Viking influence in Cork, but he added that it’s way too soon for that, as the exposure of the artifacts to too much oxygen could be catastrophic for them without chemical treatment first.

Top image: The Viking weaver’s sword found at the South Main Street dig in Cork (Image: BAM Ireland)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Comments

I'm curious: with an overall length of 12 inches, why do they call this a sword rather than a knife? The blade shape also seems more like that of a Bowie knife than a typical sword.

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