Unlocking Bronze Age Combat
Bronze Age warfare has been subjected to intensive scrutiny over the past 20 years. In this time period, previously prevailing narratives concerning the ‘pacified past’ have been replaced by an acute awareness that interpersonal violence played a major role in shaping prehistoric societies in the British Isles and Europe.
Within the new, dramatic picture that the latest research is painting, the sword has emerged as a prime player in Bronze Age (BA) warfare due to its widespread archaeological occurrence.
Despite the new studies, however, we do not know yet how bronze swords were used in prehistoric combat engagements, if BA fighting styles resembled in any way those developed in 1st millennium AD Europe, or if distinct regional swordsmanship traditions emerged in BA Europe, like they did in the late medieval period.
Two methods have been applied to the study of BA swords and swordsmanship: use-wear analysis of archaeological swords and field tests with replica weapons. Use-wear analysis, pioneered by Ottaway and Kienlin in the late 1990s, has been developed by scholars including Sue Bridgford, Marianne Mödlinger, Christian Horn and Andrea Dolfini.
Their work has enabled us to distinguish combat from non-combat marks and to better understand the function of shields in battle. Likewise, Barry Molloy’s combat experiments succeeded in demonstrating the differences between slashing and stabbing weapons, opening up fresh strands of research into BA swordsmanship.
However, the two methods have rarely been used jointly to unlock the secrets of prehistoric warfare. This PhD combines use-wear analysis of archaeological swords with controlled combat tests with replica swords in order to reconstruct Late Bronze Age (LBA: c.1200-800 BC) fighting styles in the British Isles and Italy.
This interdisciplinary approach will allow me to determine exactly which strikes, actions and body motions were employed to cause the damage observable on the ancient weapons.
The approach, pioneered with excellent results within the ongoing ‘Bronze Age combat’ project (PI: Andrea Dolfini), will lead to ground-breaking insights into how swords were used in LBA Europe, and will enable me to assess the existence of different fighting styles by looking at how different types of swords were used in the two regions examined.
The outcome will be a novel understanding of the social role of swords and sword bearers in BA communities across Europe.
Dr Andrea Dolfini and Dr Jan Harding
BA Archaeology (Newcastle University)
MA Later European Prehistory (Newcastle University)
Research Interests: European Prehistory, Bronze Age, Metallurgy, Experimental Archaeology, Combat Archaeology
Teaching: ARA8186: Ancient Technologies: Understanding Metalwork
Organizational Responsibilities: Organizer of Central Mediterranean Prehistory Day of Studies 2014 at Newcastle University
Academic related activities: Bronze Age Combat Experiment (https://sites.google.com/site/bronzeagecombat/)