Iron axe-hammer

Early Anglo-Saxon, early 6th century AD
From Grave 19, Howletts, Littlebourne, Kent

Axe-hammers are extremely rare finds from Anglo-Saxon England. This example with decorative inlays from the grave of a high status man may be an import from Merovingian Gaul. The grave also contained a sword, a belt buckle, inlaid with garnets and decorated with Style I ornament, and two violin shaped belt studs.

The axe-hammer has a finely shaped flaring blade with a lunate edge and a long and narrow hammer-head behind the socket. Nothing now remains of the wooden haft. Unusually, the axe-hammer is inlaid with metal of different colours: a wide band of brass on the blade and head of the hammer and narrow strips of copper on the socket. It has been suggested that such attention to decorative detail indicates that it was made in a workshop in Continental Europe and that it is a specialized weapon rather than a tool.

An axe-hammer was also found in the ship-burial at Sutton Hoo. It lay touching a mail tunic, which seems to confirm that axe-hammers were used as weapons in battle. The Sutton Hoo axe-hammer has an iron haft with a swivel terminal with a loop for a leather strap and it has been suggested that it could most usefully have been used from horseback or in single-handed combat.

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More information

Bibliography

R.L.S. Bruce-Mitford, The Sutton Hoo ship burial-1, vol. 3 (London, The British Museum Press, 1983)

Dimensions

Length: 17.000 cm

Museum number

M&ME 1935,10-29,15

MCS10965

Location

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