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Artículo10 noviembre 2020

Neutron spectroscopic measurements at GELINA revealing the functionality of European Bronze Age swords.

A Achtkant-Type “stabbing & slahsing” sword from Styria, dated to about 1300 – 1350 BC (figure taken from M. Mödlinger and H. Postma in Schild von Steier 23 (2010) 132
A Achtkant-Type “stabbing & slahsing” sword from Styria, dated to about 1300 – 1350 BC (figure taken from M. Mödlinger and H. Postma in Schild von Steier 23 (2010) 132
© M. Mödlinger

Non-destructive analysis by neutron resonance spectroscopy is a spin-off of the nuclear data program.

This started in 2000 with Delft University of Technology (NL) for cultural heritage and led to the development of Neutron Resonance Capture Analysis (NRCA) and Neutron Resonance Transmission Analysis (NRTA). Archaeologists performed NRCA experiments at the GELINA facility of the JRC Geel to study the composition of metal-hilted swords of various types, from two Austrian museums (Universalmuseum Joanneum, Graz, and the Landesmuseum Kärnten, Klagenfurt).

Until recently, the shift from primarily stabbing to primarily slashing weapons was dated to about 1200 BC for Central Europe. This significant change in fighting techniques should be noticeable in the post-casting treatment of the edges of the blades by different intensities of cold working (hardening). However, as Bronze Age swords are rare, unique objects and usually not permitted to be sampled for metallographic analyses (or only one sample may be taken), this could not be verified so far. In addition, the bronze swords all showed significant corrosion on the surface, which would influence any analyses carried out on their surface.

Therefore, NRCA offered the unique opportunity to analyse completely non-invasive the bulk composition of both the hilt and blade of the sword. NRCA results were combined with results of neutron diffraction (ND) measurements at the ISIS facility of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (UK) to address the functionality of the swords. This research showed that we have to pre-date the shift from primarily stabbing to slashing swords for about 100-200 years: this is in good agreement with the appearance of the first metal armour. These findings mark a significant change in Bronze Age warfare and fighting techniques.

More information can be found on the “Neutron analyses of eight Bronze Age swords from Austria: The question of ‘stabbing’ or ‘cut-and-thrust’ weapons” article found on the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

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Fecha de publicación
10 noviembre 2020