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2500 Year old Sword Excavated From Tomb in Jiangxi


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#1 galvatron prime

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Posted 16 January 2008 - 08:40 PM

2,500-year-old sword excavated from tomb :)
http://www.chinadail...ent_6399567.htm



Nanchang -- Chinese archaeologists have discovered an elaborately-made sword, which they believe is 2,500 to 2,600 years old, in an ancient tomb in the eastern province of Jiangxi.

"It is reckoned as the oldest ever excavated in the country," said Xu Changqing, chief of the excavation team.

The well-preserved sword, some 50 centimeters long, is black, gold and bright red. "A dragon pattern was carved on both ends of the scabbard, and the middle part of the scabbard was decorated with two rows of a W-shaped design," said Xu.

Xu and his colleagues have dubbed it the "First Sword under Heaven" ;) in keeping with other two heritage pieces called "First Mat under Heaven" and "First Fan under Heaven", both of which were unearthed from the same tomb. :D

Since the start of excavation work last January, at least 1,000 relics have been found in the ancient tomb, which was built in the late Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). The findings include 47 coffins. The archaeologists are studying the valuable artifacts in hopes of discovering who was buried there and what the relics reveal about the funerary culture of the period. B)

#2 Intranetusa

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 12:11 AM

Awesome find. ^^
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#3 DaMo

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 01:29 AM

It was nice of them to provide a picture. They don't bother at times. Quite good-looking, that.
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#4 kaiselin

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 01:42 AM

Yes it is very nice to have a picture attached. but I am confused.
The picture is of the scabbard, correct?

For being so old, the color is extraordinarily vivid. This is painted or is it an enamel?

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#5 William O'Chee

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 06:51 AM

I was puzzled by the scabbard as well. I would really like to know if the sword is intact inside the scabbard, or whether it was so badly corroded that it could not be removed. The latter is not uncommon among sword finds. In these cases they can x-ray the whole thing, but not actually see the blade.

#6 DaMo

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 08:11 AM

There is a good chance that it is intact. After all, the sword of Goujian and many Qin swords survived entombment exceedingly well, even retaining lethal cutting edges. A sword this exquisitely decorated would have been made for someone wealthy and would almost certainly have been forged with state-of-the-art technology.
"If an archeologist calls something a finial, he usually he has no idea what it is"
"We Vandals get blamed for stuff that was actually done by some errant Lombard or Visigoth"
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#7 William O'Chee

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 09:09 AM

Yes, the Sword of Goujian is an exquisite piece of work.

I was interested by the length of this new one, like the Sword of Goujian, as they are both shorter than a Roman gladius. That would reveal something of the nature of the fighting. Clearly it faced fairly light armour. Although the blade is double edged, its short length would facilitate a stabbing style as much as hacking.

#8 bayonet

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Posted 18 January 2008 - 07:45 AM

There is a good chance that it is intact. After all, the sword of Goujian and many Qin swords survived entombment exceedingly well, even retaining lethal cutting edges. A sword this exquisitely decorated would have been made for someone wealthy and would almost certainly have been forged with state-of-the-art technology.


Yes, I agree. The tomb has 47 coffins and around 1000 relics. It should be a royal tomb judging from the scale. So chances are that they had used the best art to preserve this sword. The swords in the same period found in the late 20th century have proved that the technology( chromic salted oxide covers the surface of sword which now is commonly applyed in the automobile industry) used then is extrodinarily effective against rusty.


I was interested by the length of this new one, like the Sword of Goujian, as they are both shorter than a Roman gladius. That would reveal something of the nature of the fighting. Clearly it faced fairly light armour. Although the blade is double edged, its short length would facilitate a stabbing style as much as hacking.


It is not easy to forge a long bronze sword. Unlike iron, bronze tends to snap when it is extended over 60cm. However, the Qin had some unique techniques that they had forged some bronze made sword over 80cm.

#9 William O'Chee

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Posted 18 January 2008 - 07:57 AM

Yes, I agree. The tomb has 47 coffins and around 1000 relics. It should be a royal tomb judging from the scale. So chances are that they had used the best art to preserve this sword. The swords in the same period found in the late 20th century have proved that the technology( chromic salted oxide covers the surface of sword which now is commonly applyed in the automobile industry) used then is extrodinarily effective against rusty.




It is not easy to forge a long bronze sword. Unlike iron, bronze tends to snap when it is extended over 60cm. However, the Qin had some unique techniques that they had forged some bronze made sword over 80cm.


I was unaware of either of these facts? Does the brittleness of the bronze in the swords mean that the fighting style had to be modified to protect against breakiing, that is more stabbing and less slashing?

#10 Kenneth

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Posted 20 January 2008 - 07:22 PM

The article here, like much reporting of Xinhua dealing with archaeology unfortunately, is inaccurate or misreported by the writer.
Although the scabbard was stunning lacquered and patterned with red & black... the sword inside is a bronze jian like was common in China at the time. The scabbard is a usual waisted shape scabbard, the hilt is plain with the lozenge-like pommel. Bronze swords in the late Spring & Autumn and Warring States period are very common, even common peoples graves could contain bronze swords.
This is not the oldest sword in China, or oldest "under heaven" by far.
"It is reckoned as the oldest ever excavated in the country," said Xu Changqing."
I think Xinhua reporting on archaeology is typically terrible. The amount of exaggeration and misinformation I have seen continues to surprise me. This article is far from the worst, but still would confuse a reader into thinking the sword is remarkable in its age, when the scabbards detail is the most remarkable feature IMO.
By the time this sword was made such swords were becoming an important feature of the battlefield. The first well-balanced and true swords for cutting & thrusting (I do not really count the Shang cleavers and knives) emerge at this time.
Nearby Jiangshi, in Zhejiang province, there are contemporary & similar swords (it is claimed) owned by the Kings of Wu & Yue (Gou-jian/Helu etc.) which have been excavated and are displayed in Chinese museums. Early but smaller jian were used before this in the West Zhou period & even the 'barbaric' Yue of the south were using bronze double-edged short-swords in the Spring & Autumn period. Double edged swords in the 5th century BC (Spring & Autumn period) are fairly common weapons.
While this sword is early it is not the oldest, nor even remarkable in itself beyond the preservation of the scabbard.
For me, the most interesting thing is that at the time this sword is dated the area of Jiangshi was considered 'barbarian' by Northern (Chinese) observers of the Zhou. These people were only marginal to Chinese history as even bordering Wu state was seen as half-barbarian (despite being founded by a fleeing Zhou noble) while the Yue kingdom of the area of Jiangshi should be truly barbarian in that the people apparently wore tattoos & and cut their hair short. The Yue people were barely on the Chinese historians radar untill they (incredibly) destroyed the strong state of Wu.
It seems the influence of Chinese Zhou culture by the end of the Spring & Autumn was signifigant since the sword is distinctly Chinese style instead of Yue. Even the tomb of one Yue king (the father of Goujian) was excavated and found to mix Chinese & tribal styles. It was a chambered mound but the king was still buried in a canoe-like coffin. The actual style of weapons of this region is of great interest to me, since while the Yue were considered savages it appears the rulers adopted and took on many trappings of the Chinese...if they themselves were not yet at that time considered to be part of the Zhou fuedal system. All swords I have seen from this time & region to date all seem to be the Chinese jian. It may just however reflect the types of sites being excavated...the tombs of the high & mightly.
I would like to know more of common graves & weapons as this really indicates how real an influence is on society.
The process of sini-fication of different cultures in the bronze-age & early iron age is quite interesting.

Yes, I agree. The tomb has 47 coffins and around 1000 relics. It should be a royal tomb judging from the scale. So chances are that they had used the best art to preserve this sword. The swords in the same period found in the late 20th century have proved that the technology( chromic salted oxide covers the surface of sword which now is commonly applyed in the automobile industry) used then is extrodinarily effective against rusty....

....It is not easy to forge a long bronze sword. Unlike iron, bronze tends to snap when it is extended over 60cm. However, the Qin had some unique techniques that they had forged some bronze made sword over 80cm.


Technically you cast bronze, you forge iron. The material on the surface of Qin swords was potassium chromate, revealed by tests in Beijing in the late 1970's. A lot of myths sprung from this and most stories just call it 'chromium'.
The modern surface treatment of chromium direct as an element uses electronic deposition and was never used in ancient China.
The confusion is because potassium chromate has a % of chromium and the swords were likely diped in a bath of the liquid. This is not at all the same. The Qin swords have at best a 2% composition of chromium and many have less as the test result was not consistent. The treatment was not completely effective since while many swords have been excavated there are corroded Qin swords too. Books & films only show the shiniest ones but it is not accurate to compare this dipping treatment as anything like modern plating of chrome.
A look at the swords reveal the difference since the colour is still the red-copper bronze appearance, and if you look at enough pictures you do see rusted Qin swords with green mineralisation.
see: http://www.chinahist...showtopic=17605 for a long explanation and some pictures.

You are correct though that swords were seldom cast into long blades. Most swords were 50cm or less. A long sword could snap if the tin % was very high or bend if used with much force but a good bronze is still very strong.
The length is perhaps partly kept short due to the difficulty of casting longer swords as the bronze cools as it is poured in a mould. A short robust blade could be stronger, and easier to make. The Qin swords of 90cm, and West Han bronze swords too, were made at the end of the use of bronze when they were competing with very long swords of iron.
Bronze is heavier than iron, so making a good bronze sword as strong as steel at 1m lengths becomes impractical and difficult (and heavy). Han steel was so good that they gave up on bronze pretty quickly after Qin...

I was interested by the length of this new one, like the Sword of Goujian, as they are both shorter than a Roman gladius. That would reveal something of the nature of the fighting. Clearly it faced fairly light armour. Although the blade is double edged, its short length would facilitate a stabbing style as much as hacking.


The other reason for short >50cm blades is that they are functional.
These swords are shorter than a Roman gladius of the most common types, but the hilt of a gladius is much larger too. Of the actual blade the stabbing reach for the shorter gladius is about comparible to the (longer) bronze short-swords.
A short sword is not a lesser weapon to a long sword, as the Roman well knew. A stabbing attack is superior to a slash in that wounds are more likely to be fatal and the attacker is less exposed while striking.
Chinese swords of the East Zhou were used by troops armed with spears and halberds (ge) and the sword was for closer melee. In a tight crush the spear is no good, once the enemy is close & past the point. A short sword however, such as the bronze jian, is at a length where even while wrestling you could stick it in an enemies armpit or ribs with speed.
These can be seen as secondary, close melee & defense weapons on an open field and ancient art shows warriors actually grappling when using these swords. Nasty.

Take a look at this thread for examples of bronze swords;
http://www.chinahist...showtopic=16791

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