A mushroom hunter in the Czech Republic has made the chance discovery of a rare, 3,300-year-old Bronze Age sword. Dedicated metal detectorists in the land must be feeling mixed emotions today as news of the mushroom picker’s historical treasure spreads across the internet. That’s just the way it is when an outsider comes into a specialized field and challenges the pros with what is always deemed to be “beginners luck.” But this beginner wasn’t even trying. It was just plain luck. This instance is so “against all odds” that it’s like if a cricketer were to pick up a golf club for the first time and score a hole-in-one.
Applying the Controversial “Swift Kick” Technique
Roman Novák was out collecting fungi in the Jesenicko district of Northern Moravia in the Czech Republic, an area perhaps most famous for its Boblig witch trials , when a man by that name burned entire “witch families” between 1622 and 1696. The mycologist told Czech Radio that a shower of rain made conditions prime for his mushroom picking craft. With his eyes firmly fixed on the ground he saw “a piece of metal sticking out of some stones.”
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Suspecting the half-buried object was perhaps something of value the fungi-gatherer, wait for it, “kicked it,” and discovered it was an ancient sword blade. This last sentence will have sent painful, pulsing electrical thump down every “-ologists” spine. The old “kick-test” was dropped from science just after German “Archaeologist” Heinrich Schliemann blew up an entire nine levels of archaeological remains of historic Troy with dynamite. Nevertheless, when the mushroom collector dug around the object, he revealed what he described as “a bronze axe.”
Dr. Jiří Juchelka, a medieval sword specialist, from nearby Silesian Museum, dated the Bronze Age sword to about 1,300 BC. (Jiří Juchelka / Silesian Museum )
Hammering Out Ancient Manufacturing Clues
What the fungi specialist did next negates all criticism for his swift test-kick, for on discovering the Bronze Age sword he followed governmental advice and reported his ancient finds to authorities. Dr. Jiří Juchelka, who leads the archaeology department at the nearby Silesian Museum , later dated the sword and axe to around 1,300 BC. The medieval sword specialist says the weapon is similar to those manufactured at that time in what is today Northern Germany and that it represents “the second sword of its type to be found” in this region.
Later Iron Age swords required the smiths to hammer red-hot molten metal into shape and then pummel the air out of the blades, but Bronze Age swords were made by pouring liquid bronze into a mold. Dr. Juchelka told Czech Radio that the weapon makers were obviously trying their best, but that the casting was of “low quality.” A series of X-ray tests applied to the sword cemented this assertion by revealing many small bubbles inside the metal blade. These suggest that this Bronze Age sword was not designed for use in combat, but rather for its “symbolic value.”
Gripping for Life: Rare Octagonal-Shaped Sword Handle
The sword was created by smiths of the Urnfield culture who emerged in this region 3,500 years ago. The Urnfield culture was a late Bronze Age culture of central Europe named after their practice of cremating the dead and placing their ashes in urns which were then buried in field mounds.
One feature that makes this Bronze Age sword so rare is that it has an octagonal-shaped handle. While nothing has yet been said about this particular feature, anyone who has ridden a BMX knows exactly why the grip was octagonal. And for those of you who prefer cycling, have a quick look at the innovative hexagonal handle-grips developed by HaroBikes and think about the increased friction in the palm created by eight “biting edges” compared to a smooth rounded handle. And while this particular example was a ceremonial sword, octagonal-handled swords faired better in the heat of battles where blood, sweat and tears were flowing.
Juchelka says this Bronze Age sword would have been a very expensive commodity 3,300 years ago. Contrary to the picture painted by history movies, only a tiny minority of our ancestors could ever have afforded a sword and they were generally the reserve of warriors from upper, controlling-classes. The bulk of history’s fighters wielded easier to make axes, spears, pole-arms and daggers and this is why this Bronze Age sword discovery in the Czech Republic has been deemed so rare. According to Czech Radio , Milan Rychlý from the Ethnografic Museum of Jesenicko, claims that “an archaeological survey of the area where the sword was found will follow.”
Top image: The unexpected discovery of a 3,300-year-old Bronze Age sword in the Czech Republic was uncovered thanks to a local mushroom hunter. Source: Ethnographic Museum of Jesenicko
By Ashley Cowie