For nearly 100 years, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago has held a sword, thought to be a well-made replica of a Bronze Age weapon. A new analysis, however, has indicated that the sword looks quite authentic because it is, having been made around 3,000 years ago.
While preparing for an exhibition on the first kings of Europe, taking place in March, Hungarian archaeologists working with the Field Museum asked for a closer look at a replica sword held by the museum. The sword, found in the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary in the 1930s, was then analyzed by the archaeologists and museum scientists using an X-ray fluorescence detector.
To do this, scientists first expose the materials they are studying to X-rays in order to ionize them.
"If the energy of this radiation is sufficient then it will interact with the atoms' inner shell electrons causing them to be kicked out. Almost immediately, a relaxation process takes place where one of the outer shell electrons falls into the inner shell," materials scientist Maido Merisalu, aka Captain Corrosion, explains in a YouTube video.
"As a result, a specific amount of energy is released in the form of electromagnetic radiation. The energy of the emitted X-rays depends on the energy difference between the higher and lower states, and therefore the radiation also carries information about the atom."
By measuring the energy and intensity of the X-ray radiation that leaves the material, scientists are able to discover what the material is made of. In the case of the sword, the team found that it was nearly identical to other Bronze Age swords of Europe, with similar levels of bronze, copper, and tin.
“Usually this story goes the other way round,” Bill Parkinson, curator of anthropology at the museum, said in a statement. “What we think is an original turns out to be a fake.”
Though the sword is around 3,000 years older than originally thought, the team found out too late to include it in the First Kings of Europe exhibition, and will instead be displaying it in the main hall as a preview of the exhibition. They speculate that the sword may have been placed in the Danube as part of an ancient ritual, perhaps to commemorate a lost loved one or a battle.