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The Oxborough Dirk

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • The Oxborough Dirk
  • Description

    Copper alloy ceremonial dirk. Edges of blade are deliberately blunt and there are no rivet holes at butt.

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 1500BC-1300BC
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Type series

    • Famille à languette large. Plougrescant-Ommerschans Type.
  • Dimensions

    • Length: 709 millimetres
    • Width: 181 millimetres
    • Thickness: 73 millimetres
    • Weight: 2.36 kilograms
  • Curator's comments

    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 extremely 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, one of only two from Britain, there are also 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.


  • Bibliography

    • Needham 1990 pp.239-252 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G51/dc12

  • Exhibition history


    2016 1 Apr- 30 Sep, The Netherlands, Leiden, Rijksmuseum van Oudeheden, Vlijmscherp Verleden
    2013 14 Sep - 2014 24 Feb, Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Masterpieces: Art and East Anglia
    2010-2011 2 Oct-23 Jan, Norwich Castle Museum, The Art of Faith
    2003 23 Oct-2004 18 Jan, London, Hayward Gallery, Saved! 100 Years of the National Art Collections Fund
    1997 6-26 Jan, London, Christies, Treasures for Everyone: Saved by the National Art Collections Fund
    1996 4 May-29 Aug, Norwich Castle Museum, The Great Treasure Hunt

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Purchased after Export Licence refused.

  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number


COMPASS Title: Ceremonial bronze dirk


COMPASS Title: Ceremonial bronze dirk

Image description



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Object reference number: BCB12475

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