The Buggenum sword, dating from 1300-1100 BC
Nuclear physics unveils secrets of Bronze Age sword
Physicists at the JRC Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (IRMM) have helped unveil the secrets of a Bronze Age sword with neutron beams otherwise used to study materials for nuclear reactors. The work was carried out by a team of European researchers investigating the application of modern scientific methods to cultural heritage objects.
Scientists at the IRMM studied the composition of the Buggenum sword using pulsed neutron beams as part of the European-funded project ANCIENT CHARM. In close collaboration with scientists from the Delft University of Technology, ten scientific institutes and museums collaborated to improve and develop certain neutron-based non-destructive analytical and imaging methods for cultural heritage objects.
By precisely measuring the ratio of copper to tin along the length of the sword, scientists gained an insight into the craftsmanship of the sword, and determined that the blade and the hilt were cast separately with different bronze compositions. The presence of cobalt in the composition supports the assumption that the sword originates from the North Alps-Danuba region. Other results indicate that although the sword is considered a ceremonial object, it was manufactured as a potentially functional weapon.
The sword was found near the village of Buggenum (the Netherlands), during the dredging of a lateral canal of the River Meuse, and belongs to the collection of the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden (the Netherlands).