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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Metallurgical Examination of Anglo-Saxon Knives.
by A R Cox.

During the excavation of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery on Polhill (KAR Number 9 page 2) a number of iron knives. swords and spearheads were unearthed. In these times (circa 600 AD) swords and scramasaxes were made by forge welding thin pieces of iron together, and in some instances as many as forty-three separate pieces were used. The methods ensured a tough and reliable weapon that was highly valued. In a report of the battle of Swanfirth against Snorri, Steinthor found "the fair wrought sword bit not whenas it smote armour, and oft he must straighten it under his foot." For the knives found at Polhill x-ray radiography showed them to consist of only one piece suggesting that their purpose was essentially domestic.

In a metallurgical study of the knives found in the graves 77 and 90 the actual structure of the (G77) knife showed what is metallurgically termed equiaxial ferrite, containing both elongated slag stringers, and other inclusions, probably carbides. Compared with this a piece of the (G90) knife showed considerable variation in the grain size, the outer ones being smaller than those at the centre, whilst in one area some acicular ferrite was evident.

In practical terms, the (G77) knife contained little carbon, less than 0.05 per cent and both knives were forged at high temperatures. In the (G90) knife the forging temperature was less than 90 degrees C and it was hammered manually. Some attempt to harden the knife by quenching in water is apparent, but since the carbon content is so low no increase in hardness is obtained. The hardness of the knives was about 150 V.P.N., which compares with a value of 330 V.P.N from an ordinary present-day kitchen knife.

In conclusion, the knives appear similar to those previously found and confirm the skill of the early smith.

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