Anthropomorphic Hilted Sword Reconstruction

2009

This spring I had the opportunity to document several Anthropomorphic swords from the Celtic La Tène period at the British Museum. This is a reconstruction that I made based on the data I collected.

The blade of the original, although corroded, shows  little sign of silica structure and no sign of pattern welding. This suggests to me that the iron was taken from a smelted bloom, which was consolidated and folded to create as homogenous a material as possible, given the smelting technology of the period. Therefore, for my reconstruction I imitated the process of consolidation by folding and forge welding a thirteen layer billet of two separate types of steel until I had a billet of 558 layers. This represents an approximation of what the original steel may have looked like.

I had close measurements of the blade thickness and distal taper and I allowed a half millimeter of loss due to corrosion, so where the original blade is 5.5 mm thick just below the hilt, and tapers to 2.9 mm at 290 mm from the hilt, my reconstruction is 5.9 mm tapering to 3 mm at the same point. Also, I allowed for 80 mm of blade to have been missing from the original; this was suggested in the literature about this sword and makes sense, as the original has a point of balance exactly at the front guard where it should be at least several centimeters out from the hilt.

With the added blade length, the balance point moves out to be approximately 40 mm from the hilt. This gives the blade a lively movement in the hand without feeling unwieldy. The blade width at the hilt is preserved in the original artifact because the hilt was designed to fit over the shoulders of the blade. The slot where the blade went shows how wide the blade was at the hilt before it became corroded. The width of the blade is 44 mm at the hilt. On the left I have a Photoshop image that shows the original sword overlaying my reconstruction; this gives a sense of what the blade may have looked like with the 80 mm added to the tip and the 44 mm width at the hilt with the edges closely following those of the artifact.

I engraved a crescent moon on the back of the blade, making reference to the several examples of anthropomorphic hilted swords from the continent which have astral symbols stamped or engraved on their blades.
I reconstructed the hilt by cutting out a photocopy of my tracing of the original and gluing it to a block of wax, which I then cut and carved to be as exact a copy as I could manage using photos and caliper measurements from the original. I cast the wax model into bronze using the lost-wax casting process, which seems to also have been used to create the original.

The only part of the hilt which is in any way interpretive is the head, which is damaged on the original so that the facial features are blurred. It was suggested in the documentation from the museum that there may have been a mustache. I used other decorative heads from the period to reconstruct what this one may have looked like, while keeping the features that are still visible as the basis for the reconstruction. I also allowed for stylized concentric lines to represent the hair on the back of the head. There are a few lines on the original, but the back of the original head shows signs of wear as well, and I assumed that lines representing hair had been worn off the original but may have existed on it at one point.

 

Weight of artifact – 437 g

Weight of reconstruction – 496 g

Length of artifact – 468.00mm

Length of reconstruction – 550.00mm

Width of artifact – 41.00mm (top of blade)

Width of reconstruction – 44.00mm

(the original documentation suggested that the blade was 60 to 80 mm longer than the artifact which has a broken tip)

Bibliography:
‘Night and day : the symbolism of astral signs on later Iron Age anthropomorphic short swords’ by A. P. Fitzpatrick – Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society

The British Museum – Merlin Collections Database
P&E Standard Report
Registration no: 1888,0719.36        PRN: BCB55694
with curatorial comments by Stead 2006

‘An Iron anthropoid sword from Shouldham, Norfolk, with related Continental and British weapons’ RR Clarke, CFC Hawkes – Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society

‘Celtic Art in Britain before the Roman Conquest’ by I.M. Stead
British Museum Publications

‘Swords and Scabbards of the British Early Iron Age’ by Stuart Piggott

Acknowledgements:

Thanks to Peter Johnsson, Owen Bush, Dr. Jody Joy, and the staff at the Prehistory and Europe study room at the British Museum. Thanks also to the New Brunswick Arts Board for helping me with my research costs. Last but not least thank you to my wife Sara for her patience and advice.

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