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Some Viking swords were among the best ever made, still fearsome weapons after a millennium. The legendary swords found at Viking sites across northern Europe bear the maker's name, Ulfberht, in raised letters at the hilt end. Puzzlingly, so do the worst ones, found in fragments on battle sites or in graves.
The Vikings would have found it impossible to tell the difference when they bought a newly forged sword: both would have looked identical, and had razor sharp blades. The difference would have only emerged in use, often fatally.
Williams began to test the Ulfberht blades when a private collector brought one into the Wallace, and found they varied wildly. The tests at the NPL have proved that the inferior swords were forged in northern Europe from locally worked iron. But the genuine ones were made from ingots of crucible steel, which the Vikings brought back from furnaces thousands of miles away in modern Afghanistan and Iran. The tests at Teddington proved the genuine Ulfberht swords had a phenomenally high carbon content, three times that of the fakes, and half again that of modern carbon steel.