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The British Museum Wants Your Help in Deciphering an Inscription on a Sword

The British Museum has a sword on display that has an 800-year-old mystery engraving on its blade, and they're asking for the public’s help in deciphering what it says. (Image: British Library)
The British Museum has a sword on display that has an 800-year-old mystery engraving on its blade, and they're asking for the public’s help in deciphering what it says. (Image: British Library)

The British Museum has a sword on display that has an 800-year-old mystery engraving on its blade, and they’re asking for the public’s help in deciphering what it says.

The sword dates between 1250 and 1330, and was discovered in the River Witham near Lincoln, eastern England, in the 19th century.

It is an extremely well preserved example of the type of sword that was common from about 1300.

It is likely that the blade was manufactured in Germany, which was the center of blade manufacture in Europe at that time. The blade is made of steel, which combines a sharply honed edge with the flexibility not to shatter in use, and is inlaid with gold wire to form an inscription that is yet to be deciphered, the British Museum said in a statement.

“An intriguing feature of this sword is an as yet indecipherable inscription, found along one of its edges and inlaid in gold wire. Image: British Library

‘An intriguing feature of this sword is an as yet indecipherable inscription found along one of its edges and inlaid in gold wire. (Image: British Library)

The museum went on to say, although the blade is most probably German, the sword is English, and would have been fitted with a hilt. The cross-shaped hilt is characteristic of swords of this period, and is associated with Christianity. The sword is part of the ceremony of Knighthood, and the cross-shaped hilt of such swords, used by knights, acknowledges the Christian duties a knight must fulfill defending the church.

According to the British Library, it weighs 1.2 kg (2 lb 10 oz) and measures 964 mm (38 in) in length and 165 mm (6½ in) across the hilt; if struck with sufficient force, it could easily have sliced a man’s head in two. The inscription is found along one of its edges and is inlaid in gold wire.

. It has been speculated that this is a religious invocation, since the language is unknown. Can you have a go at trying to decipher it for us?”  Image: British Library

‘It has been speculated that this is a religious invocation, since the language is unknown. Can you have a go at trying to decipher it for us?’ (Image: British Library)

On the museum’s blog, curator Julian Harrison wrote: “An intriguing feature of this sword is an as yet indecipherable inscription, found along one of its edges and inlaid in gold wire. It has been speculated that this is a religious invocation, since the language is unknown. Can you have a go at trying to decipher it for us?”

Here’s what the inscription seems to read:

+NDXOXCHWDRGHDXORVI+

The blade is unusual as it has two fullers, or grooves, running parallel down its length on each side. A Viking origin has been suggested for the sword on the basis of the fullers, the pommel and the letter forms of the inscription. However, it is apparent that the pommel, inscription, and the blade shape are more characteristic of Medieval European swords than those of Viking origin, according to the museum.

If you have a theory, then why not give it a shot? Go to the British Museum’s blog post and post your hypothesis in the comments section.

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