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A dagger ahead of it's time

An unusually long flint dagger from Grude in the district of Jæren was recently returned to the Museum of Cultural History after spending 25 years in Stavanger. If it could speak, the dagger from Grude would tell of swords, and of the time when bronze first arrived in Scandinavia.

The Grude dagger. Photo: Terje Tveit, Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger.

The dagger was discovered before the Museum of Archaeology was founded, and it therefore belongs in Oslo. It was incorporated into the collection in 1861 as object no. C2623: “Flint blade, unusually large, total length 16 ins...” and is depicted as no. 71 in Oluf Rygh’s Ancient Norwegian artifacts, as: “The largest example found in Norway.”

From around 2400 BCE, a large number of flint daggers arrived in Norway from sources in Denmark. For at least 500 years after metal revolutionized weapons technology and the art of combat around 2000 BCE, flint daggers continued to be produced and used.

Some flint smiths made particularly elaborate daggers, which have generally been described as imitating the supposedly more refined metal daggers. There is no reason to regard these flint weapons as less valuable or less difficult to produce than those made of metal. On the contrary, this flint craftwork is of the highest quality. However, there is no doubt that the flint smith in the making of such flint daggers consciously borrowed features from metal daggers. For example, they may have angular lines that resemble the casting seams of metal daggers.

A small number of flint swords and even a couple of flint sabres with curved edges have been found in Denmark and Sweden. Their similarity to bronze swords and sabres is striking. These objects push the boundaries of what can possibly be made in flint. As weapons, they would have been useless.

The Rørby sword and flint sabre from Fårskov. Photo: Lennart Larsen, National Museum (©Creative Commons, for conditions of use see here: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/dk/)

The narrow and straight shape and distinct hilt place the Grude dagger in the first centuries of the Bronze Age, in the period from 1700 to 1500 BCE. However, flint daggers more than 30 cm in length are exceptional, and at 40 cm in length, the Grude dagger closely resembles the oldest known bronze swords in Scandinavia. It is therefore reasonable to call it a flint sword.

An interesting parallel is provided by the eight short swords of bronze that were recently discovered in a field on Dystrup farm in Djursland in Jutland. The swords are dated to 1600 BCE and may have been among the very first bronze swords to be cast in Scandinavia. They are thought to be related to the much finer Hajdúsámson-Apa swords from Hungary. However, the Dystrup swords are cast in a much simpler fashion, and at 36–39 cm they are shorter than the Southeast European swords on which they are modelled.

The Grude dagger compared with a more ordinary flint dagger from the Bronze Age. Photo: Terje Tveit, Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger.

Gallery

Gallery

References

Jensen, Jørgen (2002): Bronzealder 2000-500 f. Kr. Danmarks Oldtid 2. Gyldendal, København.

Melheim, Lene og Christian Horn (2014): Tales of hoards and swordfighters in Early Bronze Age Scandinavia: the Brand New and the Broken. Norwegian Archaeological Review 47 (1):18-41.

Scheen, Rolf (1979): De norske flintdolkene. En typologisk-kronologisk analyse. Upublisert Mag. Art.-avhandling. Universitetet i Oslo.

Vang-Pedersen, Peter (1993): Flint fra Danmarks oldtid. Høst & Søn, København.

Østmo, Einar (2011): Krigergraver. En dokumentarisk studie av senneolittiske hellekister i Norge. Norske Oldfunn XXVI. Kulturhistorisk museum, Universitetet i Oslo.


By Lene Melheim, Department of Archaeology
Published Oct. 9, 2017 1:03 PM - Last modified Oct. 9, 2017 1:03 PM