Dr. Evelyne Godfrey with an iron spearhead from the Early Medieval cemetery site of Rhenen (the Netherlands), from the National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden.
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Investigating ancient weapons
The Merovingian cemetery at Rhenen-Donderberg in the Netherlands, excavated in 1951, contained over 1100 graves. The cemetery was in use from around 375 AD to the first half of the 8th century AD. The population were not Christian: the majority of the burials included offerings. Apart from pottery, fibulae, jewellery and buckles, the most prominent grave-goods were iron weapons. The iron artefact's included a variety of Roman-style double-edged swords (spathae), Germanic-style single-edged swords (seaxes), shield-bosses, throwing-axes, and spearheads. The objects are now at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, which allowed us to analyse two of the seaxes and 12 of the spearheads using ENGIN-X, with the aim of non-invasively characterising their chemical composition, level of technology, and current state of preservation. We found that ENGIN-X provided rapid identification and quantification of corrosion phases and preserved metal. We succeeded in mapping varying carbon contents across steel objects; this is crucially important, as we know from conventional destructive sampling methods that ancient iron artefacts are extremely heterogeneous.
E Godfrey (University of Mary Washington, USA), M van Nie (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), W Kockelmann (ISIS), D Visser (ISIS and NWO, The Netherlands), J Santisteban (ISIS)
Research date: December 2005
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