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Swordplay With Bronze Age Weapons is Really Hard

Bronze-Age Swordplay
Image: © R. Hermann, A. Dolfini, R. Crellin, Q. Wang, and M. Uckelmann/Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

Hefty Bronze Age swords are an impressive sight, but scholars have long wondered if these swords were primarily ornamental or if they were used regularly in combat. Modern researchers took a closer look at these weapons — even hoisting them in mock battles — and they discovered that not only were these swords battle-ready, using them effectively was a lot harder than it looked.

To see how much damage the swords could inflict, a research group in the United Kingdom called the Bronze Age Combat Project (BACP) brought together experts from universities and museums; and hobbyist volunteers who train in medieval European combat.

First, the scientists staged controlled experiments with seven replica Bronze Age swords, conducting single-strike tests against other weapons and shields. Next, they used human combatants to test the replicas in combat sequences. The third and fourth phases put the replica swords and 110 real Bronze Age swords from Britain and Italy under a microscope, where researchers scrutinized patterns of scratches, dings, cracks, notches, bends and dents.

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