Bronze was the eponymous and dominant metal of the Bronze Age, and the introduction of bronze metallurgy allowed for the creation of novel shapes and forms that were previously impossible to achieve. Axes and daggers were among one the earliest objects made of metal, whereas swords and spears followed soon after. The sword, however, is a relatively late innovation that was introduced in northern Europe in the Early Bronze Age around 1700 BC. The first local swords to appear in northern Europe were found in burials and hoards with a specific warrior character. In general, these warrior graves contained a bronze sword as well as a variation of accompanying finds such as flanged axes, spearheads, flint arrowheads, sharpening stones, razor blades or golden spiral ornaments. However, a sword blade was always present. These earliest swords are so-called hilt plate swords, which consist of a metal blade with a hilt plate connected to an organic grip by four to five bronze rivets. These blades are known as swords of the Sögel or Wohlde type.

Examples of some warrior assemblages from burial mounds in Monnikenbraak (NL), Baven and Ehestorf (D), as well as a hoard from Overloon (NL)

Since the earliest finds, at the beginning of the 19th century, many of such blades (ca. 300) have been found. In essence, the Sögel and Wohlde blades are a well-defined group of artefacts based on their form (typology), geographical distribution and they have been used in a relatively short period of time. Therefore, these have become culturally significant to such a degree that we now speak of a Sögel-Wohlde district and period (1600–1500 BC).  Due to these characteristics, these blades are an overall consistent artefact group that is well suited for an interdisciplinary in-depth study. It is particularly surprising that these blades have predominantly been studied from a typological and archaeological point of view, whereas archaeometric investigations are still limited.

Map with all relevant blades included in the project. Note the higher density of finds in Northern Germany and Southern Denmark which constitute the core region of the Sögel-Wohlde district.

Research questions

The objective of the Sögel project is to perform an in-depth study of the typology, form and raw materials of the earliest hilt plate swords throughout Europe. The main aim of the project is to document the corpus of the known Sögel and Wohlde blades as comprehensively as possible, along with the typologically closely related blades of the Baven and Harburg types, to analyse them by chemical and isotopic methods (Cu, Sn and Pb). This further includes typologically close bronze blades from Central and South-Eastern Europe that could have had an influential role towards the development of the Sögel and Wohlde blades or are possible prototypes of them. As a standard procedure, each blade is first investigated optically, documented and photographed to create a comprehensive database of typological and technological features of all relevant blades. In a second step, metal samples are taken from relevant blades and their rivets to determine the chemical composition and the systematics of the three isotope systems Pb, Sn and Cu. With these investigations, we strive to answer the following questions:

  • Can a multi-parameter approach including chemical composition and isotopic signatures be used to distinguish between different blade types and their variants to ascertain whether typologies of form can be contrasted with a typology of materials?
  • How did the metallurgical tradition of making such refined swords develop in Northern Europe? Typologically similar swords are known from southern Germany, the northern Alpine region, as well as the Carpathian basin, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Are these blades related to the Sögel and Wohlde types and what does this reveal about the origin of the Nordic objects and the Bronze Age exchange networks.
  • Can a multi-parameter approach, which combines chemical analyses with the various isotope systems (Cu, Pb, Sn) help identify metal groups and mixtures of metal. Furthermore, can this method make statements about mixtures of copper types or bronze batches and assess whether metal recycling or mixing was already practised in the Early Bronze Age?

Typology and Blade Terminology