Sometime in the 1930s, the “replica” was retrieved from the Danube river.

A sword believed to be a well-made replica of a Bronze Age weapon has been on show at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago for nearly 100 years. However, recent research has shown that looks can be false and that the sword, despite giving the impression of being quite authentic, was made about 3,000 years ago.

To get a better look at a replica sword that the Field Museum keeps, Hungarian archaeologists who are working with the museum asked to do so while preparing for an exhibition that will take place in March on the first kings of Europe. The X-ray fluorescence detector was used in examining the sword by archaeologists and museum scientists after it was discovered in the 1930s in Budapest, Hungary, in the Danube River.

Turns out it looks authentic because it is. Image credit: Field Museum (cropped by IFLScience)


To do this, scientists must first ionize the compounds they are studying by exposing them to X-rays.

“If the energy of this radiation is sufficient, it will interact with the atoms’ inner shell electrons, causing them to be kicked out. Almost immediately, a relaxation process occurs 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 through 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.”


Scientists can determine the makeup of a material by analyzing the energy and intensity of the X-ray radiation emitted by the material after it has been examined. In the instance of the sword, the research group discovered that it was almost identical to other Bronze Age swords found in Europe, including having comparable concentrations 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 is a fake.”

The team discovered that the sword is approximately 3,000 years older than they had originally assumed; however, it was too late for them to include it in the exhibition First Kings of Europe; as a result, they will be exhibiting it in the main hall as a preview of the exhibition. They speculate that the sword was thrown into the Danube as part of an ancient ritual, possibly to honor a loved one who had passed away or a dispute that had taken place previously.

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