A History of London in 10 Archaeological Objects: Object 2

By glynn davis on 27 Feb 2012

We’re now three weeks away from the end of the LAARC’s residency in the Museum of London’s galleries, promoting London’s archaeology, and where you can still join in yourself through our curator-led Hands-on archaeology sessions.

Continuing a year’s exposure of some of the Museum’s hidden archaeological treasures, our second object of the year sees us skip forward several millennia to the early Iron Age – an age where we still fundamentally rely on archaeology to interpret and understand ‘London’ and ‘Londoners’:

Object 2

Prehistoric (Early Iron Age) Iron Dagger & Sheath



The second object in our top 10 has moved us from the Palaeolithic to the early Iron Age. And what better an object to explore the archaeology of the Iron Age than an iron dagger! Known as the Bermondsey dagger, this well preserved object was unearthed by a Thames mudlark in 2003, in front of Chambers Wharf. Consequently it was donated to the Museum where our conservation department have stabilised and investigated the object. Just as our artefact last month represented one of the earliest examples of a London-made object; this dagger also belongs to some of the earliest iron-made objects in Britain dating to this period. Using the magic of science (that is, radiocarbon dating) the wooden sheath has produced a date range of 810-500BC – a slightly earlier date than other similar daggers that normally fall between the 6th and 4th centuries BC.

The dagger and accompanying sheath (made of ash wood) was essentially found by chance, but its original deposition may have been quite purposeful. The river Thames continued to be treated as a sacred river throughout prehistoric times and this dagger may have been ritually deposited as part of a funeral offering. This dagger adds to a small group, all of a similar type, that have been found in the Thames bed at sites such as Westminster and Mortlake. They would have been highly prestigious items and perhaps hint to Iron Age aristocracy based in the Thames valley.

Although the dagger is of good preservation it is missing much of its decorative construction that would emphasise its high status. A similar dagger in the Museum’s collection and currently on display shows the dagger is missing a copper-alloy outer sheath of overlapping, metal strips. Another missing element is the ‘twin loop suspension system’ which marks this dagger as particularly British-made, as opposed to similar Continental daggers of the same period.

As a tidal river the Thames is slowly excavating objects, some of which are thousands of years old, under its own will. This dagger is a perfect example of the amazing preservation the river bestows upon its dedications. It also highlights the importance of finders, such as the Mudlarks, in recognising, reporting and, in this case, allowing the Museum to share some of the river’s most treasured possessions.

Next month object number 3 – where we move into the Roman period and the beginnings of ‘history’, but showcasing an unusual object that represents a major branch of archaeology that has only burgeoned in the last few decades…

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