Anatomy of a notch. An in-depth experimental investigation and interpretation of combat traces on Bronze Age swords

Publication date: Available online 25 March 2019

Source: Journal of Archaeological Science

Author(s): V. Gentile, A. van Gijn


Weaponry is one of the most widespread categories of metalwork from the European Bronze Age. Different lines of evidence point out that violent encounters and martial values played a significant role both in communities’ lives and ideologies. Hence, reconstructing the practices surrounding Bronze Age weaponry is pivotal for the understanding of many aspects of coeval societies. Nevertheless, the study of the functionality and use-life of such items has developed rather late compared to other categories of objects (e.g. flint implements). Currently, experimental archaeology and use-wear analysis concerning metalwork are facing the challenge of leaving the stage of ‘infancy’ to become fully developed fields of study. This paper aims at contributing to such a development by illustrating the potential and the results of an experimental framework for the investigation of combat with bronze weaponry (swords in this paper) which offers a viable compromise between actualism and variable control. We provide an in-depth account of the results by describing both the morphology and the formation mechanics of the features obtained supported by extensive photographic documentation. Furthermore, we discuss our observations regarding the relationship between specific combat movements and the type of marks produced on weapons. Finally, the results of a pilot use-wear study on Bronze Age swords are presented in order to assess the validity of our approach.