Clip | After Stonehenge - Discovery and development of Bronze Age Swords

Swords first appeared during the Bronze Age. But scholars aren’t sure whether they were a prestige item — made for show — or designed primarily to kill.

Swords developed on human beings over hundreds of years. Neil Burridge, one of the few people replicating Bronze Age swords using authentic techniques, goes over the authentic bronze sword making process.

Secrets of the Dead: After Stonehenge premieres Wednesday, October 26 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).

Transcript Print

WOMAN: SO, YESTERDAY, WE FOUND A BRONZE SWORD.

NORMALLY WHEN WE FIND BRONZE, IT'S GREEN AND CRUSTED OVER, BUT BECAUSE OF THE PRESERVATION AT THE SITE, THIS IS SORT OF THE ACTUAL BRONZE COLOR THAT WE CAN SEE HERE.

WOMAN 2: AND HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU FOUND IT?

AMAZING. ECSTATIC.

REALLY EXCITED AND REALLY NERVOUS ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

NARRATOR: SWORDS FIRST APPEARED DURING THE BRONZE AGE, BUT SCHOLARS AREN'T SURE WHETHER THEY WERE A PRESTIGE ITEM, MADE FOR SHOW, OR DESIGNED PRIMARILY TO KILL.

MAN: EVERYTHING'S CAREFUL, THOUGHT-OUT PROCESS.

IT JUST HEATS UP SLOWLY AND THEN THE BELLOWS JUST TAKES IT UP TO THE LAST BIT OF AROUND 1,200 DEGREES.

NARRATOR: NEIL BURRIDGE IS ONE OF THE FEW PEOPLE REPLICATING BRONZE AGE SWORDS USING AUTHENTIC TECHNIQUES.

FOR HIM, THIS IS A SACRED RITUAL.

BURRIDGE: IT'S ALMOST A SUPERSTITION.

YOU KNOW, ALMOST KIND OF DOING SOMETHING THAT BELONGED TO THE ANCIENT GODS.

THERE'S MORE TO IT THAN JUST AN INDUSTRIAL PROCESS, AND THAT'S PROBABLY WHY I FIND IT SO INTERESTING.

AND YOU'RE TRYING TO FOLLOW A ROUTE TO SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED 3,000 YEARS AGO.

SO, IT'S COMING OUT QUITE NICELY, ISN'T IT?

AND IT'S NOT EASY. IT IS VERY DIFFICULT.

AND PEOPLE SAY, 'OH, YOU MAKE IT LOOK EASY,' BUT IT'S NOT.

IT'S VERY CHALLENGING.

I WILL BE VERY RELIEVED IF I GET A CASTING.

HOPEFULLY IT'S THE LAST STEP THAT WILL TAKE US TO A SWORD.

[THUD] NARRATOR: BURRIDGE USES AN AUTHENTIC BRONZE ALLOY COMPOSED OF 12% TIN AND 88% COPPER.

AROUND TWO POUNDS OF THE MOLTEN METAL IS POURED INTO A CAST.

THIS IS A NERVOUS POINT FOR ME.

THE MOLTEN PART IS AT THE TOP.

THAT'S NOT TOO BAD. SO, I'M JUST GONNA TOP IT UP A LITTLE BIT.

NARRATOR: IT'S CLEAR THAT BRONZE AGE SWORDS TOOK A HUGE AMOUNT OF EFFORT TO MAKE, BUT WERE THEY EXCLUSIVE TO ELITE WARRIORS, OR WAS THIS A VIOLENT AGE WHEN EVERYONE HAD TO OWN ONE?

BURRIDGE: IT'S QUITE GRIM, REALLY.

REMEMBER, SWORDS DEVELOPED ON HUMAN BEINGS OVER HUNDREDS OF YEARS, SO, THE SHAPE THAT YOU SEE IN THE LATER BRONZE AGE SWORDS HAS TAKEN A GRISLY ROUTE TO GET THERE.

YOU MUST ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT.

IN 'THE ILIAD,' IT JUST TALKS ABOUT THE PITILESS BRONZE, AND IT'S BASICALLY A LONG LIST OF PEOPLE, WHO THEY ARE, AND HOW THEY DIED, AND IT'S PRETTY, YOU KNOW, QUITE HORRIFIC.

WARFARE WAS HORRIFIC.

NARRATOR: DOES THE DISCOVERY OF A SWORD AND A DEFENSIVE BOUNDARY SUGGEST THAT THE VILLAGERS LIVED UNDER THREAT OF ATTACK?