Battle Damage Found on Djurhamn Sword


Conservation of the early-16th century sword I found back in August continues apace at Studio Västsvensk Konservering. Its preservation is exquisite, and as usual with conservation of metal objects, a lot of new discoveries are made in the lab. Check out Vivian Smits’ photographs!

This is clearly a battle-worn weapon that has been lost during combat. The edges have several fresh parry nicks that would have made the sword hard to sheathe, damage that would have been seen to after the fighting’s end. But the sword was most likely dropped into the sea.


Update 16 January: Vivian Smits adds, in response to comments here (and I translate):

… the blade has major damage near the point, where some material is missing [this is where it was wedged between the hazel’s roots]. … The point is slightly bent and one end of one cross-bar is deformed.

The blade bears traces of at least three “fresh” sword blows which suggests that the sword was lost during combat. All three are on the same side. The damage to the cross bar (which is on the opposite side from the nicks in the blade) may thus also be battle damage. The nicks are at 16, 28 and 39 cm from the point of the blade, which is all in all c. 70 cm long. [The total length is 92 cm.]





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16 thoughts on “Battle Damage Found on Djurhamn Sword

  1. Oh come on. It’s clear what happened: After a night of drinking and partying in the Atlantic City of 16th century Sweden, the owner of the sword found that he had lost his cabin key when he went abord his ship. In anger he banged the sword repeatedly on whatever he was nearest which awokened the big burly ship mate, who wrestled the sword from the inebriated aristocrat and hurled it overboard. It’s obvious!

    Seriously though – great fun!


  2. Reminds me of Israeli assault rifles that have a built-in bottle opener. The soldiers ruined too many good magazines by using them to open their cokes.

    Was Gustav Wasa Pepsi or Coke king?


  3. The edges have several fresh parry nicks

    What does “fresh” mean for a 16th century sword dug out of the ground? And houw could you pass up an opportunity to post more pics of the conservators?


  4. Can you show us where on the blade the nicks are? Different swords at different time using slightly different styles will have different damage, and it would be interesting to see where this is damaged.
    It does look like a nice sword though, apart from the rust and damage.


  5. Asa, you’re obviously right.

    Lassi, I’m pretty sure Gustaf was bought by the mead lobby.

    Tegumai, the nicks are fresh in the sense that they’re still sharp-edged and haven’t been hammered flush with the blade’s edge.

    Guthrie, sorry, can’t say where exactly the nicks are as the sword is in another city from which the pix above were sent to me.


  6. Oh dear! Why did I not become a conservator! I mean, I would have been employed on underrepresented gender at least! Well, damn, I knew I should have read more natural science and gone for conservator and not osteologist after finishing archaeology. Stupid me!

    Martin, I am so tempted to sneak into their lab and just look at that blade! Darn it´s unfair!
    Anyway, it will be interesting to read the report. Would you do me the honour of sending me a copy?

    I would say that you got clear marks form edge to edge parrying there. And there was some on the handle aswell, on the curls meant to guard your finger if you use the grip that has the index finger over the crossbar.
    That looks to me as if it is damage form some pretty hard clash. You usually strive to parry with the side, but here you have gone edge on edge, so to me it seems as if it was some pretty violent struggle.

    But when? I have no memory of any skirmish, let alone battle in that area from a Gustav or Eriks reigns at least. Have you checked with the historic records, Martin?


  7. The curling nick is typical for a sword striking some other metal object (e.g. helmet, armour, something else in the environment). The other nicks could also be from other non-sword metal objects, but they’re also consistent with edge hacks. If they are sword-on-sword edge hacks, as Mattias Niord points out, it would indicate a desperate situation. One displaces with the edge, and taking a blow on the edge like that is something one does in a last-ditch effort.

    I’m not seeing the “handle” damage Niord mentions, though. The tang would not have taken direct damage, being covered with a durable material such as hardwood, and the deep pitting looks (to me) consistent with ordinary corrosion.

    the sword was most likely dropped into the sea.

    Speculation here… a blade that damaged may not have been worth the repair effort if a good smith was not handy, especially if other weapons in better condition were available. There are other plausible reasons.


  8. Edge trauma near the point of the blade would suggest damage indicative of the weapon striking something resistance, such as armor or a dagger, and would not necessarily be the result of another sword edge blade blocking with its own edge (indeed, swordsmen at the time were not instructed to block oncoming swords near their point—indeed, no style of fencing does). But, this may simply be a sample case of the common haphazards occurring in close combat. The blade may even perhaps have discarded due to the damage suffered at that very portion of the blade primary for thrusting and cutting.


  9. The single nick on the back looks a bit wider,(like it might have been from striking a shield edge, helmet brim?), the others are pretty obviously sword blocks.

    Thanks for posting these pictures.
    Its nice to see the “sword traps” seemed to have worked!


  10. This sword was wielded with your index finger crooked over the parry-guard and around the base of the blade, which was dull and slightly less wide for that very purpose. Imagine what happens to that finger if your opponent’s blade comes sliding down yours and hits the parry guard. It’s hardly surprising that the swords in the generation after this one had a front parry-guard forming a closed oval, to protect the finger.


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