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Journal Article

The Fallen and Their Swords: A New Explanation for the Rise of the Shaft Graves

Katherine Harrell
American Journal of Archaeology
Vol. 118, No. 1 (January 2014), pp. 3-17
DOI: 10.3764/aja.118.1.0003
Stable URL:
Page Count: 15

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Topics: Swords, Graves, Bronze age, Funerals, Presentation swords, Interment, Bronzes, Rivets, Scabbards, Daggers
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The Fallen and Their Swords: A New Explanation for the Rise of the Shaft Graves
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The swords deposited in the Mycenae Grave Circles are some of the most visible symbols of the emergence of a new system of social relations in Middle Helladic (MH) III–Late Helladic (LH) I. Archaeological scholarship has tended to consider the MH III–LH I rise in deposition of these objects as an index allowing us to monitor cultural change; nevertheless, the extraordinary variety in the decoration of blades suggests that the patterns of their consumption represent more than just symbolic redundancy. It is argued here that the act of depositing swords in the Shaft Graves was a significant development in the network of growing power relations at Mycenae. The individual construction and depositional context of these weapons preserve a sophisticated relationship between people and objects that sheds light on the process through which social integration developed from the midst of a low-level Middle Helladic structure. This article offers an explanation for the intense escalation in the deposition of swords in the Shaft Graves, which is then contextualized within the wider historical, diacritical, and ideological processes taking place at the time.

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