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Iron Age find is oldest brass

THE old northern motto “Where there’s muck there’s brass” has proved to be literally true down South as well: an Iron Age sword found in the Thames mud near Syon Park turns out to be decorated with the oldest brass in Britain.
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, and was widely used by the Romans: the sword was at first thought to be Saxon, until Ian Stead of the British Museum identified its stamped decoration as dating to the Iron Age in the 3rd or 2nd century BC. Then Paul Cradock at the museum analysed the gold-coloured foil that covered the decorated areas, using X-ray fluorescence, and showed that it was not gold, but an 80:20 alloy of copper and zinc, the precise formula for brass.

Six other swords from this period have a similar “gold”-covered stamped ornament, which has been interpreted as either a maker’s or an owner’s mark. The mystery is, where did the brass come from?

It is difficult to make because of the volatility of zinc, but was used in Anatolia by the 3rd century BC for coins. One possibility is that one or more coins made their way from Turkey to Western Europe and were melted down, beaten into thin foil, and used by a Gaulish or even British swordsmith to enliven his creations.

From 'The Times' online, 19/8/03
Jane Posted by Jane
19th August 2003ce

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