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Detailed British Museum Report

The British Museum report describes the sword as follows:

An iron sword corroded into a copper-alloy and iron scabbard. The sword lacks it's tang but has a copper alloy hilt end (48mm wide and about 9mm high) that is deeply grooved on the front. The blade must have measured about 570mm long and is about 40mm wide at the top. About 2mm of the blade is visible on the front, but nearly all of it is exposed on the back. It is exposed and has no median ridge, but there is a marked taper from the level of the top of the chape. A couple of loose rivets (20-22mm long) with large copper-alloy heads (14mm diameter) at each end probably decorated the handle (1905,0717.2.3). On the front, the heads are similar to those of the four roundels riveted to the scabbard; but on the back they are plain.

The scabbard is 606mm long and 45mm wide, with a decorated copper-alloy front plate that overlaps an iron back plate. There is a crease across the middle of the front plate, as if it had been bent and then straightened. But the sword is straight, so any bending of the scabbard must have taken place in antiquity. Otherwise the front plate is in good condition, apart from one longitudinal split and two transverse splits at the edges. The iron back plate is fragmentary: a short length within the chape; a 90mm length just below the centre; and small pieces at the edges, especially near the mouth. The central piece starts about 288mm from the top of the mouth, and it's top is thickened, possibly representing part of the lower loop plate of a suspension loop, but if so, its shape cannot be distinguished.

The copper-alloy front plate has a low campanulate mouth (9mm high), a decorated mouth panel and then decoration over it's full length. All the motifs re infilled with open circles and basketry hatching, but the entire design is quite worn, and its surface is corroded. The decoration on the mouth panel is within a circle and comprises two opposed nodules, each with three tapering arms. Four of the arms are linked to border the circle, and the other two join in a reversed S across the middle, creating an overall yin-yang effect and defining large voids to the left and right. On the left is a trumpet void (with concave, convex and S-shaped sides), but the right void has only two sides (convex and S-shaped). Within each void, a roundel has been riveted to the front plate: each has a high rounded rim and a dished head to the rivet.

The top of the main length of decoration is sharply abbreviated by the transverse line that defines the mouth panel, and the overall design is modified to suit this abbreviation. For the rest, the design is essentially a wave tendril. Reading from the top, a tendril springs from a central cusp and bifurcates to occupy the whole of the available space within the first complete wave. The second wave is similar, with its tendril to the left. The third stops short, and its tendril, to the right, becomes a partial wave at the bottom, with a central cusp from which another tendril sprouts, and behaves in similar fashion to produce another tendril that develops into a complete wave, taking the design to the top of the chape. Most of the tendrils terminate in 'bird-heads', some with double 'beaks' and one with two eyes, and there is one larger and more complex terminal enclosing a trumpet void.

Three of the 'beaks' have never been hatched. The entire design can be viewed as a string of trumpet voids alternatively facing up and down. Most are arranged so that when the void's concave side is to the bottom, then the S-shaped side is to the right; when the concave side is to the top, the S-shaped side is to the left. This is true of the top twelve voids apart from numbers three and four (numbering from the top). Void 13 breaks the pattern because it faces the same way as 12; Void 14 is not a true trumpet void (it has two S-shaped sides), and 15 and 16 are a pair of similar orientation, side by side above the chape 'clamps'.

Only the lower part of the chape survives, but it is sufficient to show its construction. A copper-alloy back plate, pierced by openwork ornament, has overlaps that clasp the edges of the scabbard. Only the bottom of this ornament survives: a triangle in the bottom left corner, then a large circle, perhaps an 'eye' within a 'bird head'. To the right are two sides of, perhaps, a trumpet void, and above the 'eye' is the convex side of another void. Below these motifs, between the moulded finishes, is a central open triangular perforation. The back plate and overlaps are so thin that they must surely have been cut from sheet metal, to which the chape end would have been cast on. But there is no positive evidence of the casting on, and no blowholes. The frame extends to 114mmm on the one side and 188mm on the other, and originally would have reached 146-8mm, where the edges of the copper-alloy front plate are cut away to receive the chape. On the front are two imitation 'clamps' that have never been attached to the chape frame. Each is a copper-alloy roundel, 15mm in diameter, with a high rounded rim and a deeply dished rivet head that is riveted to the copper-alloy front plate of the scabbard. The cast copper-alloy chape end is heart-shaped and 42mm wide, with an egg-shaped perforation on the front and a more roughly oval perforation on the back. The perforation on the front is flanked by decorated lunate panels, each with a design including raised lobes (terminating in 'bird heads') with a hatched background, the whole being cast by the lost wax process. The chape end is surmounted by tapering moulded finishes and terminated in a large lip-shaped moulding.

NB Chape = the metal point of a scabbard.

Object name: sheath

Material: Iron

Material: Copper-alloy

Technique: lost-wax cast

Technique: riveted

Technique: basketry

Type series: Stead Group E

Type series: L Tene II Type

Series: Piggott Group III

Dimension: L (Length): 570.00 millimetres

Dimension: W (Width): 40.00 millimetres

Comment: Top of blade

Dimension: L (Length): 606.00 millimetres

Comment: Scabbard

Dimension: W (Width): 48.40 millimetres

Comment: Scabbard, hilt end

Dimension: W (Width): 42.50 millimetres

Comment: Chape

Dimension: M (Weight): 897.00 grammes

Comment: With mount

Acquisition and previous ownership

Acquisition source...

Name: Halifax (Charles Lindley Wood, 2nd Viscount Halifax) [Halifax]

Association: D (Donated by)

Findspot and field collection

Place: Bughtorpe, Europe: British Isles : England : East Rising of Yorkshire : Bugthorpe)

Association: F (Found/acquired)

References and comments

Citation: Stead 2006 / British Iron Age swords and scabbards. [Stead 2006]

Found with two bronze discs ornamented with enamel when draining a field (for metal composition and technical analysis see Craddock in Stead J979:59). The original report makes no mention of a burial, but two other accounts in the next decade refer to an 'interment' and a 'body' (Wood 1860; Thurnam 1871:475; Greenwell 1877: 5on. 1; cf. Stead 1979:36-7). Fox 1945 (especially pp. 206 - 9) discussed the decoration, Piggott 1950:13-14 and 26, fig. 2.5, pl.iii:I (Group III); Fox 1958:41-3, figs 26 (Piggott''s drawing) and 27 (analysis of the decoration on the chape end), pl. 53:c; Stead 1979: 60-1, pl 10:a; Jope 2000:122-3 and 277, pls 202:a-f and 203:g-h.


Metal analysis: bronze hilt end and chape, Dungworth 1996:414, nos 1760a and b; Table 1.


Label text: Bronze scabbard with engraved decoration on the front-plate and a cast chape


200-100 BC


From an inhumation burial at Bugthorpe, East Yorkshire


The pattern was outlined with a fine line and then engraved to produce basket-weave texturing; the background is plain and polished metal


Given by Viscount Halifax


PRB 1905 7-17 1 

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