5,000-Year-Old Arsenical Bronze Sword Discovered Hidden In Plain Sight At Venetian Monastery

Father Serafino Jamourlian and Vittoria Dall'Armellina showing the sword. Andrea Avezzù/Ca' Foscari University of Venice

A small, simple sword placed on exhibit at a museum in Venice was thought to be a weapon used during medieval times, but the hunch of a graduate student proved that it is much older and belongs to a class of similar blades found to be the oldest in the world.

Vittoria Dall’Armellina, a PhD student specializing in the evolution of ancient weapons, was visiting the San Lazzaro degli Armeni Museum in Venice when she saw the small sword in a display cabinet. She noticed that it showed greater similarities with those found in Turkey dating back 5,000 years rather than the centuries-old weapons it was placed alongside.  

According to a press release issued by Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Dall’Armellina first turned to a database of Near East antique objects and found that the simple blade was not listed. A search through museum archives found a worn-out piece of paper written in Armenian that described the sword as having traveled from Turkey to Venice, Italy, sometime during the second half of the 19th century as a gift from an art dealer and collector. The blade was listed among other items as a donation item to a priest.

There are no visible inscriptions or decorations seen on the blade. Ca' Foscari University of Venice

Its Turkish origin helped researchers to trace the blade back to a type of sword that was common in Eastern Anatolia, a small region located in the east part of Turkey characterized by dramatic mountains that meet the Black Sea. An analysis of the metal composition showed that, like other weapons from this time period, the sword is made of arsenical bronze. At the end of the 4th century and beginning of the 3rd century BCE, arsenic was added to copper to make bronze before metalsmiths began adding tin or other constituent metals common during the Bronze Age.

There are no decorations or otherwise visible inscriptions, embellishments, or distinct features seen on the blade and its inadequate storage conditions did not preserve any possible clues as to what the blade might have been used for. The researchers say that it could have been for battle or ceremonial purposes but was most likely used as a grave offering. As warriors emerged in ancient society, their graves were often adorned with goods like weapons and jewels that, over time, may have been picked up by passersby. 

Researchers conducted a metallic analysis to determine that the blade was constructed of arsenical bronze, a common practice 5,000 years ago. Ca' Foscari University of Venice

 

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