Sword of Goujian

The Sword of Goujian (Traditional Chinese: 越王勾踐劍, Simplified Chinese: 越王勾践剑) is an archaeological artifact of the Spring and Autumn period (771 to 403BC) found in 1965 in Hubei, China. Forged of copper and tin, it is renowned for its unusual sharpness and resistance to tarnish rarely seen in artifacts so old. This historical artifact of ancient China is currently in the possession of the Hubei Provincial Museum.

Discovery
In 1965, while an archaeological survey was being performed along the second main aqueduct of the Zhang River Reservoir in Jingzhou, Hubei, a series of ancient tombs were discovered in Jiangling County. A dig started in the middle of October 1965, ending in January 1966, eventually revealing more than fifty ancient tombs of the Chu State.

More than 2,000 artifacts were recovered from the sites, including an ornate bronze sword, found inside a casket together with a human skeleton. The casket was discovered in December 1965, at Wangshan site #1, 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) from the ruins of Jinan, an ancient capital of Chu.

The sword was found sheathed in a wooden scabbard finished in black lacquer. The scabbard had an almost air-tight fit with the sword body. Unsheathing the sword revealed an untarnished blade, despite the tomb being soaked in underground water for over 2,000 years.

Identification

Part of the ancient text, lit. 'The King of Yue personally made' (越王自作)

Deciphering the scripts on the Sword of Goujian
On one side of the blade, two columns of text are visible. Eight characters are written in an ancient script, now known as Bird-worm seal script (literally "birds and worms characters", owing to the intricate decorations of the defining strokes), a variant of seal script. Initial analysis of the text deciphered six of the characters, "King of Yue" (越王) and "made this sword for [his] personal use" (自作用劍). The remaining two characters were assumed to be the name of the particular King of Yue.

Construction
The sword of Goujian is 55.6 centimetres (21.9 in) in length, including an 8.4 centimetres (3.3 in) hilt; the blade is 4.6 centimetres (1.8 in) wide at its base. The sword weighs 875 grams (30.9 oz). In addition to the repeating dark rhombi pattern on both sides of the blade, there are decorations of blue crystals and turquoise. The grip of the sword is bound by silk, while the pommel is composed of eleven concentric circles.

Chemical composition
The Sword of Goujian still has a sharp blade and shows no signs of tarnish. To understand why, scientists at Fudan University and CAS used modern equipment to determine the chemical composition of the sword, as shown in the table below.

Amount of elements by percentage

Part examined Copper Tin Lead Iron Sulfur Arsenic
Blade 80.3 18.8 0.4 0.4 trace
Yellow pattern 83.1 15.2 0.8 0.8 trace
Dark pattern 73.9 22.8 1.4 1.8 trace trace
Darkest regions 68.2 29.1 0.9 1.2 0.5 trace
Edge 57.3 29.6 8.7 3.4 0.9 trace
Central ridge 41.5 42.6 6.1 3.7 5.9 trace

 

The body of the blade is mainly made of copper, making it more pliant and less likely to shatter; the edges have more tin content, making them harder and capable of retaining a sharper edge; the sulfur decreases the chance of tarnish in the patterns.

It is likely that the chemical composition, along with the almost air-tight scabbard, led to the exceptional state of preservation.

 


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