Giant prehistoric sword on display
9 September 2017
From 9 September to 15 October 2017, the Ommerschans Sword is temporarily on view in a special display case in the Tempelzaal. The sword, which is 3,500 years old, was purchased at a public sale last July at Christie’s auction house in London. An icon of Dutch archaeology, it is one of the rarest and most remarkable objects from the Dutch – and indeed European – prehistoric age.
Back in the Netherlands after 90 years
The sword was found at the end of the nineteenth century, close to the Ommerschans, a former fortress in the north of the province of Overijssel. At some point its owners moved to Germany, taking the object with them. The museum had been trying in vain to purchase the sword since 1927. Now, after ninety years, it has finally succeeded, and the sword is back in the Netherlands. Fifteen small bronze and stone objects were discovered together with the sword. They include tools such as small chisels and needles. These objects too are on view in the display case.
Rare giant swords
The bronze Ommerschans Sword is 68.3 centimetres long. It is one of a group of six rare 'giant swords' from the Bronze Age (2000-800 BC). The weapons are not suitable for fighting: they are far too large and heavy for that. Furthermore, they were not sharpened. These are idealised, ceremonial swords, which may even have served some religious purpose. With their beauty and enormous size, they were intended to make a deep impression.
The Ommerschans Sword: the most impressive of all
The swords were probably made by a single master bronze caster. All six display a consummate mastery of the art of casting in bronze. They are virtually identical, and became dispersed in prehistoric times, ending up variously in Britain, France, and the Netherlands. Of the six, the Ommerschans Sword is the most impressive, the best preserved and the most interesting to scholars. The other five are among the finest pieces in the collections of institutions such as the British Museum. Since 2005, the National Museum of Antiquities has possessed the only smaller specimen from the group in its collection, a sword that was found in an old tributary of the River Rhine near Nieuwegein (Utrecht) in 1947.
Generous support of funds
This purchase would not have been possible without the generous contribution of the Rembrandt Association and its Eleonora Jeuken-Tesser Fund. Together they contributed almost 40% of the purchase price. The public Mondrian Fund also gave a large sum, paying around 20% of the purchase price. Our director Wim Weijland is proud and delighted with this support: ‘We are incredibly happy and relieved that we finally succeeded in acquiring this sword. This would have been completely impossible without the very generous support of private and public funds.’ The remainder of the required amount came from the BankGiro Lottery, the Friends Association RoMeO, and the museum’s own funds.
After 15 October the sword will be moved to the second floor, where it will be displayed for several months as the introductory piece for the permanent exhibition Archaeology of the Netherlands. In 2018, when the museum will be celebrating its 200th anniversary, the sword will be on view in a retrospective exhibition of the finest acquisitions in the museum’s two-hundred-year history. After that it will be given a place of honour in Archaeology of the Netherlands.