Where there’s muck... you could be sitting 
on ancient treasure

Fig. 2. The Oxborough Dirk, found in Oxborough, Norfolk
Fig. 2. The Oxborough Dirk, found in Oxborough, Norfolk

For over ten years a Norfolk farmer used an old piece of corroded metal he had ploughed out of a field as a doorstop.

After a friend suggested that he have it examined by archaeologists, the farmer was recently paid over £40,000 for what proved to be an incredibly rare Bronze Age ceremonial dirk.

At 68cm long and weighing almost 2kg, about three times the size of a normal dirk from this period, this bronze ‘weapon’ was never intended for use.

Its ceremonial function is confirmed by the lack of rivet holes for a handle and its unsharpened edges. The dirk’s destruction, by bending it almost in half, would have been the focal point of a 3,500 years old ritual sacrifice to the gods. Now known as the Rudham Dirk, this amazing piece of Middle Bronze Age craftsmanship is on display at the Norwich Castle Museum.

The only other example of such a weapon in Britain was discovered in Oxborough in 1988. A man walking his dog in the woods stumbled over it, his foot catching on an edge sticking out of the boggy ground. The Oxborough Dirk, now in the British Museum, is even larger than the Rudham Dirk, weighing in at 2.4kg and 71cm long.

France and the Netherlands have two each of these oversized ceremonial weapons, bringing the European total to six.

All are so similar in style and construction that it has been suggested they were produced in the same workshop. It is not known if this was in southern Britain or on the continent but clearly demonstrates the existence of a very early cross-channel exchange network.

Many of Ireland’s Bronze Age weapons have also had a second working life before finding their way into the collections of local museums.

A bronze sword in the National Museum in Dublin was discovered in a field on the shores of Cuilcagh Lough, near Ardlow in Co. Cavan.

It was fitted with a one-piece bone handle, made from a cow’s metatarsal, and was used for many years by the finder as a kitchen knife. A high-quality handle, possibly ivory, was fitted to a Late Bronze Age sword now in the collection of the Ulster Museum in Belfast. The copper alloy cross-guard and ferrule also appear to be of 19th century origin. It’s not known if this weapon was ever used in anger but there are several notches along its edges which suggest that it might have made forceful contact with another sword.

Perhaps you know of some curious metal object lying about the farm, found in a field or bog, which could turn out to be a valuable prehistoric relic.

If so, please send a photo of the object to Farming Life.