- The sword from the end of the 4th century BC was held in a Venice museum
- A PhD student saw the sword in a medieval section but thought it much older
- The sword has been reassessed and dates from Eastern Turkey in 3000BC
One of the oldest swords in the world that was mislabelled in a museum on the Saint Lazarus Island, Venice, is around 5,000 years old, according to a new study.
The ultra-rare sword, which doesn’t resemble most ancient weapons in the world, was made around the year 3000BC and came from eastern Turkey.
However, the sword was contained in a cabinet as part of a medieval collection.
It was only when a local PhD student and expert in ancient weaponry noticed the sword that it was removed for further analysis to pinpoint its date.
The sword could have been a ceremonial object or an offensive weapon that was used in combat.
Another hypothesis is that it was part of a burial and was casually retrieved by townsfolk before ending up in a museum.
Vittoria Dall’Armellina at Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice saw the sword in a small cabinet surrounded by medieval items at the Mekhitarist Monastery on the Saint Lazarus Island in the Venetian Lagoon.
Mekhitarist Monastery, which is the headquarters of the Armenian Catholic Mekhitarist Congregation, includes museums, a church, residential quarters, a library, museums, picture gallery, printing plant and research facilities.
The weapon caught the eye of Dall’Armellina, whose master’s degree and PhD included a study on the origin and evolution of swords in the Ancient Near East.
She thought the weapon she had spotted didn’t look like a medieval artefact, but a much older sword, similar to those she had already encountered in her studies.
It looked similar to those found in the Royal Palace of Arslantepe in modern-day eastern Turkey, which would put its date to 5,000 years ago and make it one of the oldest swords in the world.
But contrary to some Arslantepe specimens, the sword is not decorated, and has no visible inscriptions, embellishments or distinctive features.
Strong resemblance to the twin swords of Arslantepe, as well as information about its metallic composition, allowed experts to determine that the sword dates back to around the end of 4th and the beginning of the 3rd century BC.
Arslantepe swords are considered the oldest type of sword in the world.
The Saint Lazarus Island sword turned out to be made of arsenical bronze, an alloy frequently used before the widespread diffusion of bronze.
Arsenical bronze uses copper and arsenic, as opposed to copper and tin or other constituent metals to make bronze.
This type of sword was found in a relatively small region in Eastern Anatolia, between the high course of the Euphrat and the Southern shore of the Black Sea.
Further analysis of trace elements could further pinpoint the exact source of the metal.
Due to less than optimal conditions, it has not been possible to detect any traces of usage.
But it’s believed the sword travelled from Trebizond in Turkey to Venice in the second half of the 19th century.
This is due to an envelope containing a worn-out slip of paper that came with the sword.
The note on the paper, written in Armenian, talks about a donation to Father Ghevond Alishan, a famous poet and writer who died in Venice in 1901.
Ghevond Alishan, who was a friend of English art critic John Ruskin, was born in Constantinople – now Istanbul – and travelled to Venice before his death.
Further studies are being done on the weapon, the history of which is still ‘shrouded with mystery’.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF ARSLANTEPE?
Arslantepe, meaning ‘hill of lions’, is surrounded by the Orduzu village and had a thriving population from the 6th millennium BC.
Its geographical position in eastern Turkey meant that it experienced both Roman and Byzantine influence.
This blend has led historians to credit Arslantepe for forging hierarcical societies, the first centralised political and economic systems and the origin of bureaucracy.
In the 1st millennium BC, it became the capital of the Hittite empire which ruled Anatolia – modern day Turkey, Syria and Lebanon.
Nine metal swords found in the ruins of Arslantepe have also led historians to believe that the ancient city was the first place the weapons were ever used.