The King of Swords
The Bamburgh sword, a unique pattern-welded weapon found in Northumbria, has helped shed new light on a critical period of Anglo-Saxon.
Fifty years ago, excavating within the walls of Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland, the archaeologist Dr Brian Hope-Taylor unearthed an extraordinary sword. But, in one of those curious twists of archaeological fate, he didn’t realise what he had discovered, and the sword was forgotten until 40 years later, following Dr Hope-Taylor’s death, when workmen started clearing his house. A former PhD student rescued an old and corroded blade that was about to be consigned to a skip. This was eventually identified as the Bamburgh sword (apparently it had been left in a suitcase in the garage) and returned to the castle.
The site of the castle, which sits on a huge outcrop of rock on the North Sea, has been continuously occupied since the Bronze Age and was an Anglo-Saxon stronghold in the sixth century (it is first mentioned in 543 ad) and the capital of the kingdom of Northumbria from the seventh century. Here a new generation of archaeologists was working on the Bamburgh Research Project to discover more about this important site. On a hunch, one of the project directors sent the sword to the Royal Armouries in Leeds to be tested.
A few days later an excited armourer called to say that not only was the sword pattern-welded (made of a number of strands of metal twisted together and forged – only the most exceptional swords of the Anglian era were forged that way) but that it consisted of six strands of welded iron: no other Anglo-Saxon sword has been found anywhere in the world with more than four constituent strands.