- Museum number
An iron sword with traces of an original organic scabbard preserved as an impression on the conglomerate of river pebbles that had encrusted the sword. Iron sword blade; two boxes of iron sheath fragments; two pieces of decorated iron sheath; one plaster cast of sheath decoration; three rubber impressions of sheath decoration.
The sword comprises a substantial length of blade, lacking the tip and the whole of the tang. It is corroded, especially along the edges, but has a fair amount of original surface. The piece is 605 mm long, of which the blade is 592 mm and would have been perhaps 15 mm longer to the tip. It is now 50 mm wide at the top, but has probably lost 1mm to corrosion on one edge. There is a median ridge, and the blade tapers from about 450 mm to a long point. The shoulders slope, and the tang is missing. Mineral preserved organics on top of the scabbard mouth show that the guard had been made of horn (identified by Fleure Shearman). There is no metal hilt end.
With the sword removed the two halves of the encasing conglomerate each retained the mould of the upper part of a scabbard plate, in part covered by the metallic remains of the plate. The lower part of the scabbard, including the chape, had not survived. The two halves of the case are now broken into several joining pieces. The encasing of the front plate is 408 mm long and in ten pieces. The top of the front plate, viewed from the inside, was covered by a layer of wood, with slight remains of a sheet of iron on top of it. Half of the wood (the right half) was carefully removed by Simon Dove to reveal the mouth of the scabbard. The entire front plate had been divided into panels. At the top a mouth-panel, campanulate above and straight below (Panel 1). Then Panel 2, decorated; Panel 3, bordered but otherwise undecorated; Panel 4, decorated; and Panel 5, like 3, bordered.
Panel 1: The right half of the impression has been revealed, extending slightly beyond the centre, and is assumed to be half of a symmetrical design. The central motif is a three leafed palmette, inverted. Its side leaves are perhaps scrolls, their stems linked, forming an arc encompassing the palmette. A pair of elongated lobes or swags spring symmetrically from the central stem. The corners of the mouth panel would each have had two interlocking half palmettes, set on their sides, but only one half of the panel is exposed. The inner half-palmette, pointing inwards, is apparently half of a seven leafed palmette represented by three flanking leaves and then a scroll whose stem curves upwards to a point, meeting the border of the panel and enclosing the motif. The outer half-palmette, in the corner and pointing outwards, is also represented by three leaves, but instead of a scroll it is within a triangular frame. Each half-palmette has rows of punched dots between the leaves and there is another line of dots between the two.
Panel 2 again has only the right half exposed of a presumed symmetrical design. It must have had two confronted semi-circular panels, the visible one with a three-lobed palmette. In each of the fan-shaped fields on either side of the central lobe are two interlocking half-palmettes, detailed with spines, and with an off-shoot occupying the third corner (the stem of the fan). These motifs are either engraved or chased and are presumably repeated in the left half. Each of the two triangular fields between the semi-circles has three lobes flanking a central triangle. These lobes, and the lobes of the palmette in the semicircle, are raised in the impression but in the original would have been perforations allowing the wood backing to be seen as a contrasting and perhaps painted surface. The narrow strips bordering Panel 2, top and bottom, are flanked by tiny semi-circles with radiating spokes or petals, and a pattern of dots between them - a central horizontal row and three dots vertically between semi-circles. The wood backing was apparently held in place by an iron strip between panels 1 and 2 attached by three pairs of rivets. On the line of this presumed strip X-rays show four small rectangular panels in a contrasting metal (?bronze). A possible rivet, central at the bottom of Panel 2, may indicate the position of a second iron strip.
The long and rectangular Panel 3 has an elaborately tooled border with grooves defining two cross-hatched bands. At one side a substantial piece of the iron scabbard survives, and there is no hint of wood on either side of it. It seems that the wood backing stopped at the bottom of Panel 2.
Panel 4 has decoration executed like that of Panel 2, and its sides include four palmettes like those in the semicircles in Panel 2. But the pattern is best described in terms of individual peardrops (the central lobe of the palmette being a peardrop). Thus peardrops are linked to form hour-glass shapes arranged vertically and horizontally, interlocking . Within the panel there are three complete hour-glass shapes, two vertical and one horizontal (central) and 12 abbreviated versions. This pattern creates eight quadrangular fields occupied alternately by two different chased or engraved motifs. Most of them are damaged, but they are not identical, so not stamped. The one has herring-bone decoration within a pointed oval frame, with tiny arrows pointing into the two corners at the sides. The first and second examples (counting from the top) are well preserved. The second motif is more complex, and only the fourth example is in reasonable condition. Perhaps it is based on two half palmettes linked by a swollen S-stem cross-hatched in the centre, with triangular shapes extending into the two other corners. The top and bottom borders of Panel 4 have decoration similar to their counterparts on Panel 2, but they are narrower and it is not so easy to distinguish the dots. Like Panel 2, Panel 4 had traces of a wood backing, identified by Caroline Cartwright as ash (Fraxinus excelsiorsp.), which had been secured by bronze strips, top and bottom, riveted through to the iron front plate.
The casing of the back plate is about 360 mm long, now broken into three pieces (numbered 1, 1A and 2). The back plate is 54 or 55 mm wide and overlapped the front, with rounded edges defined on each side by two grooves that extend to the very top of the scabbard plate on the right (the only side where they are visible) where almost half of the low campanulate mouth survives. Most of the impression is covered by the remains of the scabbard plate in which the iron rivets for the suspension loop can be distinguished, about 42 mm apart between centres. On the outside of the conglomerate case is a 28 mm length of the loop, 10mm wide, and the domed upper loop plate. Loop and loop plates show very clearly on X-rays, which give measurements of 55 mm for the overall length and 33 mm for the loop itself.
Length: 592 millimetres (blade)
Length: 605 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Stead 2006
The sword within its scabbard had been encased in a conglomerate of pebbles, including flint pebbles concreted by corrosion products. Within the conglomerate the iron corrosion products from the scabbard had migrated to form a close-fitting solid mould, almost black in colour and with a shiny surface. The mould preserved very fine detail of the outer surface of the scabbard so well that its quality resembled that of a silicone rubber mould. As the corrosion products migrated the scabbard plates themselves were in places completely destroyed and elsewhere reduced to very thin corroded plates. Either on discovery or soon afterwards the conglomerate was split open down the edges of the scabbard to remove the sword. The preservation, construction and decoration of this piece presents unusual problems of interpretation, because so little of the metal survives and the impression is still partly obscured. The conclusions presented in Stead 2006 include contributions from Simon Dove, Karen Hughes, Janet Lang and David Thickett.
A reddish coloured material that might possibly have been pigment was investigated by Janet Lang using X-ray diffraction and X-ray flourescence spectrometry, which showed only the presence of iron, suggesting that the reddish colour is haematite, a very common corrosion product of iron.
For technical report on the iron sword, Stead 2006 p. 89; Lang 1987: no. 3.
When registered, the sword was 'in iron sheath of which the lower portion is wanting and which is encrusted with pebbles'.
Found in the River Thames, presented by A.W. Franks.
- Not on display
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number