06 April, 2010

Sword of Goujian

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Sword of Goujian
Material Bronze
Created Spring and Autumn Period
Discovered 1965 in Jiangling County
Present location Hubei Provincial Museum, Hubei Province, China

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 found in 1965 in Hubei, China. Renowned for its sharpness and resilience to tarnish, it is a historical artifact of the People's Republic of China currently in the possession of Hubei Museum.




In 1965, while an archaeological survey was being performed along the second main aqueduct of the Zhang River Reservoir in Jingzhou, Hubei, more than fifty ancient tombs of the Chu State were found in Jiangling County. The dig started in the middle of October 1965 and ended in January 1966. More than 2000 artifacts were recovered from the sites, the most interesting of which was a bronze sword.

In December, 1965, 7 km away from the ruins of Jinan, an ancient capital of Chu, a casket was discovered in Wangshan site #1. Inside, an ornate sword was found on the left of a human skeleton.

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 two thousand years.[citation needed] A simple test conducted by the archaeologists showed that the blade could still easily cut a stack of twenty pieces of paper.



On one side of the blade, two columns of text were visible. In total there are eight characters written in an ancient script. The script was found to be the one called "鸟虫文" (literally "'birds and worms'-characters" owing to the intricate decorations to the defining strokes), a variant of zhuan that is very difficult to read. Initial analysis of the text deciphered six of the characters, "越王" (King of Yue) and "自作用剑" ("made this sword for (his) personal use").

The remaining two characters were likely the name of this King of Yue. From its birth in 510 BC to its demise at the hands of Chu in 334 BC, nine kings ruled Yue, including Goujian, Lu Cheng, Bu Shou, Zhu Gou, etc. The exact identity of this king sparked an active discussion/debate among archeologists and Chinese language scholars. The discussion was carried out mostly in letters, and it involved famous scholars such as Guo Moruo. After more than two months of exchange, the experts started to form a consensus that the original owner of the sword was Goujian, the King of Yue made famous by his perseverance in time of hardship. So the entirety of the text reads "越王勾践 自作用劍", meaning "(Belonging to) King Goujian of Yue, made for (his) personal use".


The Sword of Goujian is 55.6 cm (21.9 in) in length, including a 10 cm (3.9 in) hilt. The blade is 5 cm (2 in) wide. In addition to the repeating dark rhombi pattern on both sides of the blade, there are also decorations made 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

After being in water for two thousand years, the Sword of Goujian still has a sharp blade and shows no signs of tarnish. To solve this mystery, scientists at Fudan University and CAS made use of modern equipment to determine the chemical composition of the sword, as shown in the table below.

Amount of element 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.

Many[who?] experts believe that the chemical composition, along with the almost air-tight scabbard, explains the exceptional state of preservation of this sword.

See also

External links