- Museum number
- Object: The Orton Meadows Sword
Iron sword sheath with iron chape and belt loop. The front plate is now in three pieces, one break coinciding with a recent bend (the overall coating of mud had broken away on the line where the sword was bent). The scabbard is 557 mm long and 53 mm wide at the top (so the sword must have been a tight fit), and its mouth is campanulate and 12 mm high. A reinforce, 3 mm deep but now badly corroded, crossed the front plate just below the mouth, its terminals attached by rivets to the edges of the back plate. The borders of the front plate are defined by grooves about 10 mm from the edges, and filled with cross-hatching above the chape, and linked arcs within the chape. Where the surface is well preserved, punched dots can also be distinguished, at the sides of the crosses and alongside the arcs. The back plate overlaps the front plate with quite narrow (about 3 mm wide), flat overlaps. The suspension loop is centred about a third of the way down the scabbard, with the top of its upper loop plate 129 mm below the mouth. Its overall length is 88 mm, and the loop plates are rounded and have projections - a tongue at the top and a pelta at the bottom. The loop itself is rectangular, about 43 mm long and 18.5 mm wide (waisted to 15.5 mm wide). The chape is 136 mm high, with terminal mouldings at the top of the frame. It is bridged front and back, central to the mouldings and 10 to 12 mm below the top, the front bridge being neatly ribbed. The chape end is open and rounded, and thickened at the bottom, with bulbous finials and a slight cordon on each side.
The scabbard has been repaired in antiquity, along the right edge of the back plate, where a broken overlap was replaced by an iron strip 10 mm wide riveted to the inside edge of the back plate and curved to overlap the front plate. Now 80 mm long (originally at least 86 mm), it was attached by six rivets. Just above is the mark of a second very similar repair alongside the suspension loop, where a strip 35 mm long had been attached by four rivets. Perhaps the two lines of rivets attached a single strip, of which only the 80 mm length survives.
Much of the scabbard was covered with mineral-replaced fabric. On the front it was well preserved over the entire length of the chape, extending to 30 mm above; elsewhere it could be distinguished in several places up to 120 mm below the mouth. On the back the replaced fabric was less well preserved, but again it covered the full length of the chape.
Length: 557 millimetres
Width: 53 millimetres (at top)
- Curator's comments
A sword [1981,1202.1] was found in this iron scabbard, but was removed from it in the Conservation Department, British Museum.
Found in 1980 during gravel extraction from an old course of the River Nene, as were 3 swords now held in Peterborough Museum and 1989,0302.1-3. Stead 1984a and 1984b: 47-9; Lang 1987:70, no. 2; Jope 2000:39 and 244, pl. 52:g.
J.P. Wild examined a sample of the fabric replacement, and noted that it was 'plain 2/2 twill which to the eye looks like wool. Details are: System (1) c.10 threads per cm, Z-spun; System (2) c.8 to 9 threads per cm, S-spun. This is one of the earliest examples of a textile with Z-spun ?warp combined with S-spun ?weft, not unexpectedly in 2/2 twill. It is important in demonstrating that Z/S spin was not a Roman introduction into North-West Europe. (Wild 1988:81)'.
From I. Meadows 'Nene Valley Archaeological Survey: The Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age':
"A substantial deposit of metalwork [was] deposited into one course of the River Nene at Orton Meadows. The metalwork included swords, spearheads and currency bars that had been bent, perhaps ‘ritually killed’ (Stead 1984). These objects were found during gravel extraction in a channel near to a pair of Bronze Age round barrows, perhaps reflecting some continuity of respect for the general location. As a practice the deposition of metalwork in water is also more a Bronze Age trait than Iron Age although significant deposits of both periods are known. The recovered objects comprised two La Tène I swords, a La Tène III sword in a copper alloy scabbard, a spearhead with engraved decoration, seven complete currency bars (additional fragments were also found), a rare ladle perhaps used in wine consumption and a latch lifter of La Tène III style. Whilst the objects span a 400-year period, and although some could have arrived in the water accidentally, the currency bars were deposited in a single event. That many of the pieces showed damage that was probably deliberate would also suggest the conscious separating of them from this world. No other deposits of metalwork have come from the Nene."
Stead, I. 1984. 'Iron Age metalwork from Orton Meadows [Cambridgeshire: currency bars, swords, ladle, etc - dredger finds]' Durobrivae 9, pp.6-7
Ian Stead notes that this sword and scabbard is atypical. It is relatively short compared to other swords in his Group A. The suspension loop is also very long and its loop plates are shape differently compared to other swords in this group. Unusually, it is not attaxhed at the top of the scabbard as on other swords of this type. Rather, it is attached a third of the way down. This can be compared with later Iron Age swords from Scotland and northern England where the suspension loop is towards the middle of the scabbard, unlike southern English and Continental Iron Age swords where the suspension loop is attached at the top of the scabbard.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1982 15 Jul-27 Oct, Peterborough Museum, Recent Finds at Orton Meadow
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number