Bronze Age Swordsmanship: New Insights from Experiments and Wear Analysis

The article presents a new picture of sword fighting in Middle and Late Bronze Age
Europe developed through the Bronze Age Combat Project . The project investigated
the uses of Bronze Age swords, shields, and spears by combining integrated
experimental archaeology and metalwork wear analysis. The research is grounded in
an explicit and replicable methodology providing a blueprint for future experimentation
with, and wear analysis of, prehistoric copper-alloy weapons. We present a four-step
experimental methodology including both controlled and actualistic experiments. The
experimental results informed the wear analysis of 110 Middle and Late Bronze Age
swords from Britain and Italy. The research has generated new understandings of
prehistoric combat, including diagnostic and undiagnostic combat marks, and how to
interpret them; how to hold and use a Bronze Age sword; the degree of skill and
training required for proficient combat; the realities of Bronze Age swordplay including
the frequency of blade-on-blade contact; the body parts and areas targeted by
prehistoric sword fencers; and the evolution of fighting styles in Britain and Italy from
the late 2 nd to the early 1 st millennia BC.
All primary data discussed in the article are available as supplementary material
(Appendix) so as to allow scrutiny and validation of the research results.