Swords found in early medieval graves don’t necessarily mark the final resting place of a warrior, new research suggests.
The international research, combining literary and archaeological data, borrows from ancient texts to challenges the long-held notion that swords found in excavated ancient gravesites bear the mark of a warrior.
Flinders University expert Dr Erin Sebo says the research team has found enough evidence to overturn one of the common assumptions in early medieval archaeology.
The study considered every description of, or reference to, a warrior burial in Old English or Old Norse literature, and found that none feature a sword, suggesting that it is highly unlikely that the presence of a sword indicates a warrior burial.
“If the presence of a sword in a grave doesn’t define a person’s status as a warrior, then perhaps we have to think in a completely different way about what a sword represented in the early medieval mortuary context,” says Dr Sebo, a lecturer in medieval literature at the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Flinders University.
The study, ‘A Double-edged Sword: Swords, Bodies, and Personhood in Early Medieval Archaeology and Literature‘ (2019) by Duncan Sayer, Erin Sebo and Kyle Hughes (Trinity College Dublin), is published in Journal of European Archaeology (ISSN 1461-9571).