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Death by combat at the dawn of the Bronze Age? Profiling the dagger-accompanied burial from Racton, West Sussex

Needham, Stuart; Kenny, James; Cole, Garrard; Montgomery, Janet; Jay, Mandy; and, Mary Davis; Marshall, Peter


Stuart Needham

James Kenny

Garrard Cole

Mandy Jay

Mary Davis and

Peter Marshall


A previously unresearched Early Bronze Age dagger-grave found in 1989 at Racton, West Sussex, is profiled here through a range of studies. The dagger, the only grave accompaniment, is of the ‘transitional’ Ferry Fryston type, this example being of bronze rather than copper. Bayesian analysis of relevant radiocarbon dates is used to refine the chronology of the earliest bronze in Britain. While the Ferry Fryston type was current in the earlier half of the twenty-second century BC, the first butt-riveted bronze daggers did not emerge until the second half. The Racton dagger is also distinguished by its elaborate rivet-studded hilt, an insular innovation with few parallels. The excavated skeleton was that of a senior male, buried according to the appropriate rites of the time. Isotopic profiling shows an animal-protein rich diet that is typical for the period, but also the likelihood that he was brought up in a region of older silicate sedimentary rocks well to the west or north west of Racton.He had suffered injury at or close to the time of death; a slice through the distal end of his left humerus would have been caused by a fine-edged blade, probably a dagger. Death as a result of combat-contested leadership is explored in the light of other injuries documented among Early Bronze Age burials. Codified elite-level combat could help to explain the apparent incongruity between the limited efficacy of early dagger forms and their evident weapon-status.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 14, 2016
Publication Date 2017
Deposit Date Oct 13, 2017
Journal The Antiquaries Journal
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 97
Pages 65-117
Public URL