Casting the Bronze Age: A Prehistoric Spearhead Comes to Life

The Bronze Age Spearhead

In February 2008, Rubicon Heritage Services made a very unusual discovery. While excavating a site at Mullamast, Co. Kildare in advance of construction on the N9/N10 road scheme, a strange metal object was unearthed from a shallow pit on one of the prehistoric sites. It was immediately apparent that this was no ordinary artefact, but was in fact a Bronze Age spearhead- deposited in the soil sometime between 1500 and 800 BC.

It is very unusual to find an artefact such as this during an archaeological excavation, and we felt it was sufficiently special to warrant more unusual methods of interpretative analysis. With the support of our clients, the National Roads Authority and Kildare County Council, the site excavator Liam Hackett approached craftsmen specialising in the recreation of prehistoric casting techniques to produce a reconstruction of the spearhead.

Pouring the Molten Metal into the Mould

James Hayes and Niall O’Neill of Umha Aois (meaning ‘Bronze Age’ in Irish) use hand-built furnaces, moulds, bellows and tools to recreate as closely as possible the conditions a prehistoric bronzesmith would have worked in. The opportunity to observe the by-products of the manufacturing process were of particular value archaeologically, as the data gathered could be used in future to help identify fragmentary evidence of ancient metalworking.

The Original Spearhead (left) with the Reconstructed Spearhead (right)

The casting process was difficult and unpredictable – from a total of five castings, only one was considered to be of sufficient quality to be fully finished and polished. The reconstructed side-looped, socketed spearhead will be a valuable educational tool but is also a beautiful artefact in its own right. It is currently in the process of being hafted to an ash-wood shaft for display and presentation purposes.

An article by Liam Hackett in the latest issue of Archaeology Ireland magazine (Autumn 2010, p10 – 12) describes the reconstruction process in detail and presents a sequence of images, illustrating each stage of the casting.

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