The Bronze Age Handling Box contains a replica of a bronze spearhead from Rathgarret, Co. Westmeath. Scroll down to find out more about weaponry in Bronze Age Ireland.
The Development of Metalworking During the Bronze Age
The Bronze Age takes its name from the development of metalworking techniques. Bronze, an alloy of tin and copper, became a popular choice of material for metalworkers during this period. Stone implements such as axes and knives still continued in use. Their replacement by metal tools was probably a long and gradual process.
- Moulding and Casting
Bronze Age metal tools were formed using moulds to shape the molten metal into the desired form. The technology for moulding bronze improved through the Bronze Age. Initially, items were cast by pouring the melted bronze into hollowed out stone moulds. By the Middle Bronze Age, people had invented two part moulds, where two hollowed stones were put together and metal was poured into a gap at the top. This allowed for sophisticated objects like axes and spearheads to be produced. By the end of the Bronze Age, metalsmiths were making wax or fat models of what they wanted to cast, putting clay around them and then heating the clay to melt the wax. The melted metal was then poured in and once set, the clay was chipped away. Examples of such moulds are on display in the ‘Prehistoric Ireland’ exhibition at the Museum.
- Late Bronze Age Weaponry
The Late Bronze Age saw a change in the Irish climate with a prevalence of wetter and colder conditions. Archaeologists believe this may have impacted heavily on the agricultural economy in Ireland with bogs expanding and the countryside becoming more heavily forested. Large amounts of weaponry dating from the Late Bronze Age have been discovered in Ireland. This weaponry (swords, spears, rapiers, knives,dirks, halberds) found in hoards may indicate a rise in warfare between communities.
Exhibition links at the Museum of Archaeology
The original spearhead, found in Rathgarret, Co. Westmeath, is on display in the ‘Finds from Irish Wetlands’ exhibition. This small exhibition features a selection of finds from Irish wetlands including more than 800 reports related to discoveries. Spearheads are also found in the ‘Prehistoric Ireland’ exhibition which traces the story of Ireland’s first inhabitants through the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age.
Bronze Age Handling Box – Bronze Spearhead
What kind of society is likely to have produced spearheads?
The Bronze Spearhead in the Handling Box
The Bronze Age Handling Box contains a replica of a Bronze Spearhead from Rathgarret, Co. Westmeath.
About the Original Spearhead at the Museum of Archaeology
The original spearhead dates from approximately 1000 BC. It is currently on display in the ‘Finds from Irish Wetlands’ exhibition at the Museum. The spearhead was discovered buried seven feet deep in a bog. It is a good example of the type of spearhead which was widely used in Ireland during the Late Bronze Age.
Spearheads were weapons. Weapons could be used in battle, as signs of display of status or as ritual objects. To use effectively it was necessary to mount the spearhead on a long wooden shaft. It was tied securely to the shaft using the loopheads.
Earlier spearheads were flat daggerlike blades with a tang, which could not be mounted easily on a wooden shaft. Later, conical shafts and side loops were introduced into the design of weapons to ensure the weapon stayed on its shaft. In the case of some axes, the object evolved from initially having side supports or flanges to being bagshaped or hollow to allow a wooden shaft to be inserted. Large amounts of weaponry dating to the Late Bronze Age have been discovered in Ireland. On display at the Museum are various artefacts associated with Bronze Age weaponry such as leather and bronze shields, swords and daggers.
Hoards and Weapons
A number of weaponry hoards dating from the Bronze Age have been discovered. The best known example is the Dowris Hoard (approximately 218 objects which include swords, spearheads, axes, gouges, knives, razors, cauldrons, buckets, horns, crotals and other miscellaneous objects). It is thought that this hoard may have been collected over time throughout the Late Bronze Age before being deposited as an offering to a prehistoric god. These artefacts may be indicative of a period of turmoil and warfare.
Teaching About the Bronze Age Using the Bronze Spearhead
There are Key Concepts, Key Questions and Learning Outcomes for a range of activities related to the Bronze Spearhead objects. These resources and activities can be downloaded for use in the classroom.