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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Research Postgraduates

Publication details for Professor Janet Montgomery

Needham, Stuart Kenny, James Cole, Garrard Montgomery, Janet, Jay, Mandy, Mary Davis and & Peter Marshall (2017). Death by combat at the dawn of the Bronze Age? Profiling the dagger-accompanied burial from Racton, West Sussex. The Antiquaries Journal 97: 65-117.

Author(s) from Durham


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.