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Rapier Blade and Handle from the Bronze Age Black Rock Hoard

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Black Rock Dagger

Black Rock Dagger

The rapier blade and handle are part of a Bronze Age hoard discovered a short distance inland from Black Rock, East Brighton, in late 1913 or early 1914. The hoard was found in chalk rubble, probably during the excavation of building foundations. Much of the hoard dates to the Middle Bronze Age, around 3,500 years ago.

The hoard also contained:-

  1. Eight bronze palstave axe heads
  2. Three bronze ‘Sussex’ loops
  3. Two bronze armlets
  4. One bronze coiled finger ring

The blade is undecorated but has a slight raised mid-rib along its length. It has a straight-edged butt and three rivet holes. The handle has a straight-edged socket to receive such a butt but only has two rivets holes, suggesting the blade and handle were not designed to go together. The blade is not particularly characteristic of British rapiers and although parallels have been suggested with blade forms from Northern Germany, its source remains uncertain.

More unusual is the handle. It is made from a hollow bronze casting, features incised line and punctured dot decoration and originally had a pommel fixed in its base. The delicate nature of the handle’s grip suggests it was designed for a smaller hand and may possibly have had a ceremonial rather than practical use. In design, the handle is more comparable to examples found in Northern Germany, implying the handle may have been imported from the Continent.

Bronze Age hoards in the South of England are distributed mostly along the coast rather than inland. The ritual deposition of objects in areas on the boundary between land and water is a common theme in the Bronze Age and the Black Rock Hoard, located near the sea shore, could be another example of such behaviour. What is more puzzling is that the handle, as well as the coiled finger-ring, may have been manufactured as much as 200 years before the axes or loops. Does this mean the hoard is a ‘founder’s hoard’ – a collection of unused objects buried for possible later recovery – or was this a more personal hoard collected over a number of generations and buried with ritual intent?

Andy, Volunteer Local History & Archaeology