A Doctoral Student Just Discovered a Tiny 5,000-Year-Old Sword—One of the Oldest Weapons in the World—in an Italian Monastery

The 5,000-year-old weapon, which hails from the Bronze Age, was mislabeled as a medieval artifact.  

Serafino Jamourlian and Vittoria Dall'Armellina with the ancient sword. Courtesy of Ca' Foscari University. Photo: Andrea Avezzù.

In 2017, an Italian student named Vittoria Dall’Armellina was visiting a monastery-turned-museum on San Lazzaro degli Armeni, a small island off the Venetian Lagoon, when she spotted a familiar looking sword. The sword, mistakenly grouped with medieval artifacts, was thought to be a few hundred years old at most.

It turns out it’s one of the oldest known weapons in the world.

Dall’Armellina, who was getting her doctorate in archaeology at Venice’s Ca’ Foscari University at the time, thought the object looked familiar to those she had studied for her master’s thesis on the early Bronze Age, when swords were believed to have been first invented. It turns out she was right: After more than two years of analysis, experts have dated the artifact back 5,000 years, according to an announcement from the university.

The ancient sword discovered by Vittoria Dall'Armellina. Courtesy of Ca' Foscari University.

The ancient sword discovered by Vittoria Dall’Armellina. Courtesy of Ca’ Foscari University.

“I thought that I knew that type of sword and that I was certain it was contemporary with those of Arslantepe and Sivas,” Dall’Armellina told Live Science, referencing the weapons from ancient cities of Anatolia, in what is now eastern Turkey, which date back to 3000 BC.

Working with scientists from Ca’ Foscari University, Dall’Armellina traced the sword back to Ghevont Alishan, a poet and famous Armenian priest who maintained a close relationship with English art critic John Ruskin. The object was gifted to Alishan in the late 1800s by a collector and passed to the monastery after his death in 1901. 

A handwritten note that once accompanied the sword explained that it was unearthed in a small settlement on the coast of the Black Sea, in what is now eastern Turkey.

A researcher analysizes the ancient sword. Courtesy of Ca' Foscari University.

A researcher analyzes the ancient sword. Courtesy of Ca’ Foscari University.

The sword was also discovered to be made of arsenical copper, an alloy of copper and arsenic that predated the invention of bronze. That fact, for Dall’Armellina, was confirmation that her hunch was right.

“I was pretty sure of the antiquity of the sword,” she said. “When the results of the analysis revealed that the material was arsenical copper, it was a great satisfaction.” 

Both the material and the tapered shape of the sword are similar to those of a pair of twin swords found inside the Royal Palace of Arslantepe in Anatolia, which are considered to be the oldest examples of their kind ever discovered. 

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