A 5,000-year-old sword discovered in a monastery in Venice turned out to be the world’s oldest sword.
People have crafted weapons since time immemorial. Throughout history, we’ve seen how people evolved tools into weapons and developed them into some of the most terrifying objects crafted by the hands of man. But these weapons also tell us a lot about ancient times, and what people were like thousands of years ago.
Finding the oldest tool, weapon, or sword specifically, is not easy. However, one lucky graduate student identified what turned out to be the oldest weapon on Earth.
A student from Venice found by chance an ancient sword that was mislabeled at a monetary museum. Upon closer inspection, it turned out that it was far more valuable than experts had thought. The young, eagle-eyed student managed to spot what experts had overlooked for years.
Discovering the world’s oldest sword
The graduate student from Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, Vittoria Dall’Armellina was on a tour through a former monastery, now serving as a museum at a small island in Venice. While going through some of the precious artifacts housed at the museum, an ancient sword caught her attention. Upon closer inspection, she came to realize that the weapon was labeled as being only a few centuries old, but its design, shape, and condition were telling a different story.
Luckily, Dall’Armellina is an expert in the Bronze Age and artifacts from that time. That’s why immediately after spotting the sword, she noted it did not belong to the Medieval Period as it was labeled in the Museum but was far older. As it turns out the mislabeled sword is more than 5,000 years old and is one of the earliest swords uncovered anywhere in the world.
The sword is believed to have been discovered at a settlement called Kavak, near the ancient Greek settlement of Trebizond in present-day Turkey on the Black Sea coast (now Trabzon).
The weapon was identified back in 2017, and it took quite some time for experts to verify it and trace back its origin, but the Ca’ Foscari University and Dall’Armellina set out to unravel its mystery. The journey began by contacting the monastery and analyzing the archives.
This revealed that the sword was actually a donation from an Armenian art collector called Yervant Khorasandjian to a monk that lived at the monastery 150 years ago, known as Father Ghevond (Leonzio) Alishan.
After more than 2 years of research and detailed metallurgical studies that helped verify the composition of the sword and comparing it to other ancient swords found in Turkey, Dall’Armellina was onto something surprising.
The analysis revealed that the ancient weapon was made out of arsenical copper. As revealed by Live Science, this is an alloy of copper and arsenic used about 5,000 years ago, which means it predated the invention of true Bronze. This helped confirm the antiquity of the sword, establishing it was at least from 3,000 BC. The research also revealed the sword’s construction type and its metallic composition were clear indications that the item had, in fact, originated from a very early stage of the Bronze Age.
As revealed by the university, the sword was crafted in a similar way to that of the twin swords that were found at an ancient palace at Arslantepe in eastern Turkey. These swords are undoubtedly around 5,000 years old, a fact that helped date the mislabeled sword.
This data and the marked resemblance to the twin swords of Arslantepe found in a well-documented context have allowed the finding to be dated with confidence between the end of the fourth and the beginning of the third millennium BC., and to confirm its relevance to a rather rare typology.
At the present state of studies, that type of swords are widespread in a fairly restricted region of eastern Anatolia, between the Euphrates River and the southern coast of the Black Sea.
The analysis of the elements can further specify the origin of the metal from a specific deposit. The sword, unlike some of the specimens from Arslantepe, does not have any decoration: it does not show any inscription, no frieze, any distinctive sign. Due to suboptimal storage conditions, it was not possible to detect any traces of use. It could, therefore, be both a weapon used by a soldier in battle, but it may also have been a ceremonial weapon or even part of funerary offerings.
Although the analysis of the sword has revealed a plethora of details which have answered many questions about its origin and age, its history remains shrouded in mystery. This means that to find out everything there is to know about the oldest sword on Earth, researchers will have to up their game and dig deeper, hoping to eventually reveal its secrets.