Use-wear analysis bolstered a now erroneous perception that early copper weaponry were little more than male status symbols. For whatever importance conferred to the owners of metal weapons, the over-interest in the social significance has apparently distracted archaeology from a critical analysis of emerging use-wear studies.
This paper by Horn and von Holstein looks at the study of use-wear and finds a need to honestly acknowledge what can be known with the limited study areas. In fact, it could be reasonably surmised, base on the state of the current data, that most copper weapons were used regularly, sometimes forcefully, and then continually repaired, re-shaped, re-riveted and edge-hardened throughout the objects' lifetime.
They focus on two areas that obscure what can be known. One is the maintenance of copper weapons, the other is the disparate corrosion associated with different styles of burial and deposition. Here they consider attributes of copper to reconstruct the life of the object and they show that the presence of a decomposing body significantly alters the material over other burial methods.
"It has been argued that they were less important in warfare and served a more ceremonial purpose because in Scandinavian rock art they are usually depicted sheathed, i.e. in a passive role, and because researchers perceive real Early Bronze Age weaponry as lacking any usability in combat...However, at least 26% (18) swords from the Early Nordic Bronze Age possess notches..and 48% exhibit very strong (5) or extreme (6) corrosion, obscuring use-wear traces. Thus, though only 26% can be directly shown to have use-wear damage, [but] up to 74% might have done so."If looking at re-riveting of Unetice halberds, they raise the prospect that current typologies based on hafts could be totally false.
"Being unaware of the possibility of repairs may cause researchers to assume that the reduced form was the original design. This is problematic for the construction of typologies. For example, Wüstemann (1995) defined several variants of Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age halberds belonging to the Unetice complex according to the shape of their hafting plates. However, from the pieces with complete rivet holes, we can construct a continuous line of more and more damaged hafting plates with broken rivet holes and repairs such as secondary rivet holes."
|Fig 3. Rework halberd hafts of copper knives.|
As a footnote, I've suggested previously that the small "jeweler's" cushion stones and whetstones found in some Bell Beaker burials were not the tools of a smith, but rather maintenance tools of a dagger owner, similar to a butt stock gun cleaning kit or an integrated whetstone on a survival knife.
Free version [here]
"Dents in our confidence: The interaction of damage and material properties in interpreting use-wear on copper-alloy weaponry" Horn and vonHolstein. Journal of Archaeological Science
Volume 81, May 2017, Pages 90–100
The presence or absence of use-wear marks on copper (Cu)-alloy weaponry has been used since the late 1990s to investigate the balance between functional (combat) and symbolic (value, status, religious) use of these objects, and thus explore their social and economic context. In this paper, we suggest that this work has not taken sufficient account of the material properties of Cu-alloys. We discuss mechanisms of plastic deformation, incremental repairs and corrosion in detail to show how these can obscure use-wear traces. In a survey of Cu-alloy weaponry from the Nordic Bronze Age (1800/1700e550 BCE) from Denmark, Sweden and Germany, we show that corrosion of Cu-alloy objects is strongly linked to depositional context, being greater in burials (both inhumations and cremations) than hoards or as single objects. A relative paucity of use-wear marks on burial weapons should therefore not be used to argue that these were purely symbolic objects, e.g. in contrast to the better preserved hoard material. We
propose that use-wear traces on Cu-alloy weaponry, particularly on blade edges, is significantly more elusive than previously realised, and that undamaged objects have been over-identified.