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Unearthing an Anglo-Saxon pattern-welded sword

20 December 13 -- jsuess
Contributed by Anna Griffiths, County Collections Project Officer, Oxfordshire Museums Service

In the Oxfordshire County Collections there is a sword.

It dates to around 450-550 AD and is Anglo-Saxon. It was made using a technique called pattern-welding and would have had an intricate herringbone pattern along its blade. Belonging to somebody wealthy, it would have been a symbol of status.

It may have slain men in battle. It may have been kept as a treasured, family heirloom and passed on from one generation to the next. It may have had a name.

It was buried with its owner and lay underground for 1500 years until it was discovered by archaeologists excavating to make way for the Shrivenham by-pass, near Watchfield in the 1980s.

This sword has been one of the star items in the Oxfordshire Museum Service’s History in the Making project.

Watchfield Sword, Oxfordshire County Collections

As part of this project we want to find out more about traditional and ancient crafts and skills and to see how they are still practiced in our county today, and so we commissioned blacksmith Stuart Makin (whose business Iron Forged Designs is based just over the county border in Brackley) to make a replica of this fascinating object. He has been joined by David Joy, a blacksmith from Banbury, who is learning how to pattern-weld.

Blacksmiths Stuart and David see the Watchfield Sword for the first time

 

A test sample showing how the pattern-welded blade would look

They first visited the Museum Resource Centre back in early November to see the sword, learn about its discovery, and to take detailed measurements and notes. Stuart has since been making test samples and then on 17th December Stuart and David met up to start producing the sword – a process that will take around 8 days. These photos give us a glimpse of their work so far:

 

 

 

 

The original sword’s hilt did not survive in the archaeology; however traces of it left behind on the sword tell us that it would have been made of horn. We are having a horn hilt carved for our replica so that people can see and appreciate what the whole sword would have originally looked like. This will be added to the sword in early January.

The blacksmith project has been captured on film by independent filmmaker Sharon Woodward and the replica sword will feature in a new exhibition called Unearthed opening at The Oxfordshire Museum on February 8th 2014, alongside the original Anglo-Saxon sword and the screening of the film. We can’t wait to see it!

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