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NOVA: Secrets Of The Viking Sword

Airs Wednesday, March 29, 2017 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

An original Ulfberht sword at the National Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark. The...

Credit: Courtesy of National Geographic Television

Above: An original Ulfberht sword at the National Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark. The sword is dated from the 10th century and bears the inscription +VLFBERH+T. According to archeometallurgist Alan Williams' research, Ulfberht swords with the +T inscription were made from crucible steel, a pure kind of steel not known in Europe during the Viking Age.

A modern-day swordsmith reverse engineers the ultimate weapon of the Middle Ages — a sword both prized and feared.

The Vikings were among the fiercest warriors of all time, and a select few carried the ultimate weapon: a sword nearly 1,000 years ahead of its time. But the secrets behind this super sword’s design, creation and use have remained hidden for centuries.

Now, through a mix of science, archeology, metallurgy and history, a NOVA/National Geographic co-production unravels the mystery and re-creates this Viking uber-weapon — the Ulfberht sword.

Secrets Of The Viking Sword Preview

Fashioned using a process unknown to the Vikings’ rivals, the Ulfberht sword was a revolutionary high-tech blade as well as a work of art. Considered by some to be one of the greatest swords ever made, it remains a fearsome weapon more than a millennium after it last saw battle.

But how did master swordsmiths of the Middle Ages come up with the Ulfberht’s complex recipe, and what was its role in history? So far, no one has been able to forge a metallurgically accurate Ulfberht.

Produced between 800 to 1000 AD, the Ulfberht offered unique advantages as a weapon. Its combination of strength, lightness, and flexibility represented the perfect marriage of form and function in the chaos that was a Viking battle.

Photo credit: Courtesy of National Geographic Television

Each year, hundreds of Viking reenactors meet for the "Big Battle" at the Viking Festival in Wolin, Poland. The Vikings are supposed to be some of the fiercest fighters in history.

Thousands of Viking swords have since been found, most discovered in rivers or excavated from burials across Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Of those, only 171 are marked Ulfberht — most only corroded skeletons of once magnificent blades — further cloaking the mysteries of what some experts deem the ultimate weapon of the fiercest warriors.

Photo credit: Courtesy of National Geographic Television

Blacksmith Ric Furrer in his workshop holding his crucible steel Ulfberht blade. It has been almost 1,000 years since a metallurgically accurate Ulfberht blade has been made.

In "Secrets Of The Viking Sword," NOVA and National Geographic follow modern day swordsmith Ric Furrer as he endeavors to become the first person in a thousand years to bring this mysterious sword back to life. Furrer reverse engineers this legendary sword with the help of new findings about the chemistry of the Ulfberht’s steel.

Viewers will watch every step of the way as he uses period tools and methods to build a special oven, heat and cool the raw iron, and skillfully wield the mallet to shape and forge the metal by hand, hammer blow by powerful hammer blow. NOVA delves into the intriguing process of how science is helping to bring the Ulfbehrt back to life.

The film demonstrates the dramatic and extremely challenging forging process as it unfolds, step-by-step, and illustrates how technology and innovation enabled craftsmen to create one of the greatest weapons of all time.

Photo credit: Courtesy of National Geographic Television

Blacksmith Ric Furrer heats the crucible Ulfberht blade in a traditional brick forge.

This episode originally aired in 2012.


This full episode is available for viewing on demand.

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NOVA: The Volga Trade Route

The Vikings didn't invent crucible steel, so where did it come from? Many experts believe that the Volga trade route supplied Vikings with prized crucible steel from the Middle East, where people were more practiced in the art of forging it. For more, watch "Secrets of the Viking Sword".


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