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Sword deemed a replica is a Bronze Age original

At Chicago’s Field Museum, what was thought to be a modern replica of a Bronze Age sword turned out to be the real deal. According to the museum, the artifact actually dates back over 3,000 years.

Over the summer, János Gábor Tarbay, an archaeologist at the Hungarian National Museum, made the finding as the Field Museum was preparing for First Kings of Europe,A special exhibition will open in March 2023, focusing on how egalitarian farming communities from southeastern Europe became ancient monarchies. Tarbay asked co-curator Bill Parkinson to see the sword when the Hungarian National Museum’s artifacts were brought over for the spring show. 

The Field Museum purchased the sword nearly 100 years ago. On the accession card, the sword was described as a replica. Parkinson said Hyperallergic that Tarbay thought the label was peculiar, since he had seen drawings of the sword in various journals that were published around the 1920s and ’30s when the object was found at the bottom of the Danube River in Budapest.

Tarbay, whose knowledge is in Bronze Age metal artifactsAfter taking a closer look at the sword, he felt certain that it wasn’t a copy. To confirm this, the sword was tested to determine if it contained copper or tin. Using an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) detector, which analyzes chemical components within an artifact to create an “elemental fingerprint,” Tarbay and Field Museum scientists compared the “replica’s” components to known Bronze Age swords and found that theirs had an identical bronze and copper makeup. 

Installation of a Bronze Age Era sword (1080-900 BCE) in the Field Museum’s main hall as a preview for First Kings of Europe

Three millennia before, the sword might have been thrown down with chest armor and the shield to honor someone who had died in battle. “It’s a very specific ritual tradition from this time period that speaks to the evolution of a ruling warrior class that was starting to emerge at that point in time,” Parkinson said.

The funeral rite was developed during the time when smelting bronze from copper and tin was being used to produce various products. trade routes across the continentAmong other goods, they carried tin and gold as well as horses. Class-stratified societies were born as people with access to tin from countries like Afghanistan, Britain, and Uzbekistan became more wealthy than those who couldn’t. By the Iron Age, around 1200–1000 BCE, these elite groups would go on to become kingdoms that the Ancient Greeks would write about during the Classical Period.

The sword was not found in enough time to be added to the forthcoming exhibition’s showing of Bronze Age era weapons, like another sword dating to 1700–1600 BCE from Hajdúsámson, Hungary, that may have been a part of a burial hoard and is on loan from the Déri Museum. However, the Field Museum’s sword will be installed in the museum’s main hall as a preview of the First Kings of EuropeThe show opens on March 31.

Parkinson was astonished at the discovery. “Usually this story goes the opposite way,” he said. “You think something is real and it turns out to be a fake.”

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