VISITORS to the Beacon Museum will now get the ‘pointy end’ of local history, with a newly acquired 2,000-year-old sword going on permanent display.
The sword was found in Irton near Santon Bridge, and having been in the ground since the late Iron Age, it has stood the test of time remarkably well.
The precious find was discovered by a local detectorist, who wished to remain anonymous, in 2016. It was passed to the local finds liaison officer through the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which the British Museum advises on.
The blade was detached from the hilt and remains inside its copper alloy scabbard, which has now calcified to become fused to the sword itself. Graduate curator Alex Milner has been working to display the sword in recent weeks. He said: “It’s quite a small iron sword and would have been around 50cm long when in one piece. People would have been significantly smaller in stature during those times and so you can see that in the design of the handle.
“Because of the style, we know that it wasn’t a Roman sword and was created here in the north west. So feasibly, a local warrior or hunter could have been holding this sword on the day that the Romans arrived in what is now Cumbria.
“The sword itself is now extremely brittle, with much of the outer layers calcified. The scabbard is encrusted around the blade and that has borne the brunt of the weathering, resulting in most of the original blade remaining intact. It will now be stored in strictly monitored conditions to slow the natural degradation of the materials as much as possible.”
The Iron Age in Britain is generally considered to have ended with the Roman occupation in 43AD, and so the sword, being late Iron Age, is thought to have been created at the time of the Roman occupation.
In the area now known as Cumbria, this occupation happened many decades after the first Romans arrived on the south coast. The Iron Age was named after the discovery of iron as the chief material for tools and weapons, and this moment in time coincided with the beginnings of recorded history in writing, which spread with the expansion of the Roman Empire.
The sword is currently part of the Beacon Museum’s Curator’s Choice exhibition, and will find a permanent home in a digitally-enhanced display there in 2020.
Visitors can see the Curator’s Choice exhibition until Sunday December 1. Access for Copeland Residents is free for those who have registered for a Copeland Pass.
For more information, visit the Beacon Museum website at www.thebeacon-whitehaven.co.uk.