NCL-7EF795: NCL-7EF795: Early Medieval pattern-welded sword

Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
CC License:

Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
CC License:

Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
CC License:

Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
CC License:

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Unique ID: NCL-7EF795

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Awaiting validation Find awaiting validation

An incomplete iron pattern-welded sword of Early Medieval date, c. 550-650.

The sword is the main component of a small group of objects, fused together with iron corrosion. Individual component measurements are offered in the description of each object, while the figures provided in the 'Measurements' section of the record (below) apply to the group as a whole. The object has been conserved, and the following description has been provided after conservation, with numbers and objects also indicated on an annotated drawing.

1. Sword: The sword consists of a 366mm length of blade that has been 'folded' in half, such that the blade creates a U-shape with the two broken ends of the blade touching. The iron at the curvature of the fold is generally undamaged, but there is more corrosion and lamination of the iron of the blade away from the fold. There is no evidence for tip or tang of the sword, or any other related hilt and handle fittings. X-ray and visual inspection reveals that the sword is pattern welded, though the folding of the sword makes it difficult to identify the width of individuals strands; it appears to consist of three wide strands on the X-ray, but a patch of displaced corrosion reveals two adjacent strands that would allow for the full width to consist of four or five strands flanked by the edges. The corrosion is such that the structure of the sword can be clearly seen, consisting of two layers each bearing four or five strands welded together with blade edges forged to the outside of the double-layers centre. While the sword would have been double-edged, corrosion of the iron has limited this to very short sections. The maximum width of the blade is 47.71mm and the maximum thickness (where least corroded) is 5.96mm.

Viewed in profile, it is clear that other objects were inserted in the hollow of the fold, and other objects are corroded to the sword on its outside. The knife (2) and the chape of its sheath (3) are found in the hollow of the fold, with a possible blade or tool (6) inserted further up between the 'arms' of the folded blade. And oblong fitting (5) can be found fused to the side of one portion of the blade, and a socketed fitting (4) can be found placed centrally on one broad face of the blade. In addition, there are visible fragments of bone material, and the conservator has commented that some of the corrosion byproduct appears to have mineralized bone material (shaded grey in the drawing to further distinguish from denser iron corrosion.

2. Knife: The knife blade is 57.78mm in length, 14.64mm in width, and 3.42mm (max) thick. The full view of the knife is impossible, positioned as it is in the fold of the sword, but it appears to be a roughly triangular shaped blade, with a triangular section. It was probably placed while still in its sheath, as a copper-alloy chape (3) is found over the pointed end of the knife, the tip of which pokes through the chape.

3. Knife sheath chape: The chape is made of a sheet of folded copper alloy, with the outer face of the chape appearing to have a convex or domed appearance. The chape is 19.82mm in width and 6mm in thickness.

4. Socketed fitting: A sub-rectangular hollow or socketed fitting is found fused to the blade. It is incomplete, but what remains is 52.84mm in length, 22.45mm in width, and 8mm in thickness. It is unclear if it is made of iron or copper alloy. When complete, the object would have been oval in section.

5. Oblong fitting: And oblong, iron fitting rests against the outer edge of one portion of the sword blade. The fitting is relatively amorphous, but distinct enough in its shape and position to clearly be a different object. It is 66.43mm in length and 12.23mm in width.

6. Possible blade or tool: A possible iron blade or tool is visible in profile between the 'arms' of the folded sword, providing an oblique section view of the object. The object is approximately 10mm in width and 4.84mm in thickness, with a narrow triangular section.

7. Mount fitting: A possible copper-alloy or iron pair of small domed mounts resting against the edge of the blade, dome facing down to either side. The objects is approximately 16mm in maximum width and 7mm in maximum height for one and 13mm and 7mm in maximum height for the other.

While incomplete, the folding of the blade, which would have required reheating of the iron, suggests the 'ritual killing' of the sword; the attached objects are probably other objects that were included in a funerary assemblage, to which this sword belonged. Further, the use of two layers each of four or five strands plus edges in the welding of the sword suggests that this object is a technically 'high end' product of an Early Medieval swordsmith.


This object was featured in episode one of series two of Britain's Secret Treasures, first shown on ITV1 17/10/2013. It is referred to as the Alnwick Sword.

Find of note status

This is a find of note and has been designated: National importance

Subsequent actions

Current location of find: Great North Museum
Subsequent action after recording: Donated to a museum


Broad period: EARLY MEDIEVAL
Subperiod from: Early
Subperiod to: Early
Ascribed Culture: Anglo-Saxon
Date from: Circa AD 550
Date to: Circa AD 650

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Length: 177 mm
Width: 63 mm
Thickness: 41 mm
Weight: 535 g

Discovery dates

Date(s) of discovery: Wednesday 1st August 2012 - Friday 31st August 2012

Personal details

Found by: This information is restricted for your login.
Recorded by: Dr Robert Collins
Identified by: Dr Robert Collins

Other reference numbers

Museum accession number: NEWMA: 2014.16

Materials and construction

Primary material: Iron
Secondary material: Copper alloy
Completeness: Incomplete

Spatial metadata

Region: North East (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
District: Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
To be known as: Field 26

Spatial coordinates

Grid reference source: GPS (From FLO)
Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 1 metre square.

Discovery metadata

Method of discovery: Metal detector
Current location: Great North Museum
General landuse: Cultivated land

References cited

No references cited so far.

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: NCL
Created: 5 years ago
Updated: 3 years ago

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