Length: 70.900 cm
Weight: 2.368 kg
P&EE 1994 10-3 1
Room 51: Europe 10,000-800 BC
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Ceremonial bronze dirk
Bronze Age, 1450-1300 BC
From Oxborough, Norfolk, England
Stumbling upon antiquity
A man walking in woods near Oxborough literally stumbled across this dirk in 1988. It had been thrust vertically into soft peaty ground nearly 3,500 years ago, but erosion had exposed the hilt-plate, which caught his toe.
The 'weapon' respects the basic style of early Middle Bronze Age dirks, but it is ridiculously large and unwieldy, 70.9 cm long and 2.37 kg in weight. The edges of the blade are very neatly fashioned, but deliberately blunt and no rivet holes were ever provided at the butt for attaching a handle in the customary manner. The dirk was evidently never intended to be functional in any practical way. Instead, it was probably designed for ceremonial use, or as a means of storing wealth.
Although of an extremely rare type, and indeed the first example from Britain, there are four excellent parallels from continental Europe - two each from the Netherlands and France. Two of these earlier finds give the type the name Plougrescant-Ommerschans type. The five weapons are so similar, in style and execution, that it is possible that they were all made in the same workshop. However, on present evidence we cannot be sure whether this was in Britain, or the neighbouring parts of continental Europe.
C.B. Burgess and S. Gerloff, 'The dirks and rapiers of Great Britain and Ireland', Prähistorische Bronzefunde-2, 4:7 (1981)
S. Needham, 'Middle Bronze Age ceremonial weapons: new finds from Oxborough, Norfolk, and Essex/Kent', The Antiquaries Journal-5, 70 (1990), pp. 239-52