Period: Bronze Age (1700 BC - 500 BC)
Project title: Combat analysis of Replica Bronze Age Weapons
Researcher: Catherine Anderson, University of Edinburgh, Scotland
From the Bronze Age the first graves containing weapons for combat and not just hunting are known. The weapons are cast in bronze and include weapon types like swords, spears and shields. Bronze can become razorsharp, but is not as durable in use as the hardned iron and steel weapons of later times. The question is how these relatively delicate weapons were used in combat in order to defeat the enemy without destroying the very valuable weapon. We know of description of fighting with bronze weapons from the ancient Greeks. In addition combat damage on the original prehistoric bronze weapons give us clues as to the type of battle the weapons were used for. Catherine Anderson will be trying out the fighting techniques with replicas of Bronze Age weaponry. If the same kinds of damage appear on the replicas after use, as we see on the original weapons, we may have come closer to the 3000 year old combat technique.
The Researchers Conclusions:
The aim of this experiment was to understand how people in the Late Bronze Age used shields, swords and spears. Most people think of spears as a fairly simple weapon, used either for throwing or thrusting. However, the damage that is still visible on the edges of Late Bronze Age spears is very similar to the damage found on their contemporary swords – one of the aims of the experiment was to discover if the spearheads were being used in a similar manner, and whether it would be possible to relate damage patterns to combat styles. Additionally, it was of interest to identify the most effective way of using shields and compare the functionality and key features of organic and inorganic shields.
The experiments resulted in a range of key findings:
• Throwing or thrusting spears only very rarely resulted in tip damage; however, associated shield evidence suggests that spears were used in a throwing capacity
• Spears could, and probably were, also used in a similar manner to the swords
• The presence of damage clusters suggest that certain combat styles produce particular damage patterns, although the specifics of the relationship are still unclear
• Both shields were functional in combat situations, although optimal performance for each depended on the type of combat to be engaged in.
Reference number HAFF 02/09