Amazing what turns up at the Museum. Yesterday I received a telephone call from Mr Tony Shuck asking if we could identify an old sword that belonged to his late father. He did not know how his father came by the sword but he remembered that at one point his father had chased an intruder across the garden waving the sword and wearing only his underpants! Tony did not know where the sword came from and wanted to find out more.
From Tony’s description I gathered that the sword wasn’t very old in archaeological terms because it still had its leather scabbard and its bound leather handle with pommel. I don’t claim any expertise with this sort of material but I know a man who does, or who, at the very least, knows about matters military: Michael Whitworth.
Michael is Head of Commercial Operations at the Museum and he kindly agreed to meet me and Mr Shuck in reception this morning. We went up to a meeting room to see the sword. Michael identified the sword as probably Sudanese and mid-later 19th century or early 20th century in date. He suspected it had picked up as a souvenir from a battlefield in East Africa.
There were a number of campaigns in Victorian times in this part of the world against the Dervishes. Gordon of Khartoum is perhaps one of the most well-known casualties of these wars. This was all very well and good and I was pleased we’d been able to help Tony with his enquiry. But then it occurred to me that this was rather helpful in shedding light on one of the objects in our Ancient Worlds displays. In our third gallery we are going to show lots of objects and explain why we have so many examples of things like lamps and glass vessels and so on.
One of the display cases shows objects that copy other things, sometimes in a rather surprising way. We are going to show some Danish prehistoric flint tools. One of them has been flaked or shaped in such a way that it imitates the stitching you might find on a leather handle. I realised when I saw Tony’s sword hilt that this was very similar to what the Danish flint workers must have been trying to copy about 4000 years ago, as you can see from the photographs. It’s really useful to have the photograph of the East African sword for comparison and Tony’s happy for us to use this in a download of additional information about the objects that visitors can look at on a mobile device.
I am really grateful to Tony and his partner Holly for bringing the sword in to show us today and to Michael for kindly giving up his time to identify it.