Catherine Jones

The Sword in Iron Age Britain

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

With the use of the significant Iron Age sword collection at the British Museum, my research will investigate British Iron Age swords by looking at their symbolism as markers of martial power, their production, decoration and use in terms of how they were worn and wielded during combat.

Start Date: September 2017
End Date: September 2020
Themes: The 'lives' of objects from their making, use, reception, loss, collection and later use and understanding. What objects can reveal about the social, cultural, religious, creative and political history of their makers, users, owners, depositors and collectors.
Research discipline: Archaeology
Location: UK
Staff member: Dr Julia Farley (primary)
Dr J D Hill (secondary)
Department: Britain, Europe and Prehistory
University and department: University of Manchester, School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
University supervisor: Dr Melanie Giles (primary)
Dr Ina Berg (secondary)

How were swords worn, used and deposited in different regions of Iron Age Britain?

Investigating sword and scabbard fittings for evidence of use-wear and looking at contexts of deposition could suggest regional variation in cultural practice during the Iron Age.

Can swords help us understand warrior identity and appearance, as well as styles of combat?

Investigating typological choice and osteological evidence of trauma could suggest combat style preferences and create narratives for different societies within Iron Age Britain.

What role did swords play in establishing personal and regional identities?

Swords may have been high-status gifts or repaired heirlooms symbolically passed down through generations. The decoration may have been key in establishing regional and personal identities.

About my research

My research will investigate the sword in Iron Age Britain through a multidisciplinary approach in order to answer questions about symbolism, martial power, combat style and smithing technology. The project will evaluate regional differences to investigate variety in cultural practices throughout Iron Age Britain.

Key objectives include:

• Creating biographies for Iron Age swords in Britain by analysing deposition context, decoration, wear patterns and osteological profiles of individuals interred with swords.

• Investigating how swords were worn by studying representations of Iron Age figures and analysing scabbard fittings for patterns of wear.

• Using non-destructive scientific analysis (x-ray, SEM, microscopy) to investigate technological choice, smithing methods and regional differences for sword making.

• Using osteological profiles to investigate the style of combat and whether this changes over time.


The Kirkburn sword


The Bugthorpe scabbard chape and decoration


The Embleton sword and scabbard

Aims of my research

My research aims to provide a narrative for the way in which the sword was viewed, utilised and ultimately deposited during the Iron Age period in Britain.