Metallurgy Prowess Revealed by World’s Oldest Swords Discovered in Turkey
A selection of ancient swords, discovered at the Turkish archaeological site of Arslantepe, are believed to be the first and oldest swords in the world. Dating back to the Early Bronze Age, these 5,000-year-old arsenic-copper swords are part of a cache of nine swords and daggers from the famed Arslantepe mound, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Turkey’s Matalya.
The oldest weapons that could ever be described as swords were found on Arslantepe Hill in Turkey. Dating to 3300-3000 BC.
— Archaeo - Histories (@archeohistories) January 11, 2023
Arslantepe Swords of Finesse: Oldest Swords Discovered to Date
The swords were found during excavations of a mud-brick palace structure in the Arslantepe mound in the 1980s. The aforementioned cache of nine swords and daggers, ranging from 45 to 60 cm (17.7 to 23.6 inches) in length, were intricately decorated with silver inlays, suggesting that they were used by high-status individuals or were ceremonial weapons.
- Advances in Medieval Knight Armor Could Not Match Weapon Technology!
- The Shotel Sword: Ancient African Weapon Was Worn To Impress the Ladies
The discovery of what are believed to be the world’s oldest swords provides insight into the development of metallurgy and the social structures of ancient societies, from one of the most complex civilizations in human history.
Although some scholars have questioned the practicality of the swords due to their short length compared to modern standards, it is believed that they could have been effective in the hands of a supposed “antagonist” in 3000 BC. The intricate designs and inlays on these swords, as well as their use in high-status burials, indicate that they held a significant cultural and symbolic value, reported Arkeo News.
Aerial view of the prehistoric Arslantepe site near Malatya in Turkey, where the world’s oldest swords were unearthed. (Ramazan Cirakoglu/Wirestock / Adobe Stock)
Arslantepe Mound: A Complex Ancient Society?
The Arslantepe site in Turkey has been inhabited since the 6th millennium BC, and was an important center of the ancient Near East – the Fertile Crescent and the Levant. The discovery of the Arslantepe swords, dubbed the world’s oldest swords, shed new light on the development of metallurgy and weapon-making in the ancient Near East.
One of the most significant discoveries at Arslantepe is a large palace complex dating to the Early Bronze Age, around 3,500 BC. This palace complex is considered one of the oldest and most well-preserved examples of palace architecture in the Near East.
The palace complex at Arslantepe covers an area of around 4,000 square meters (43,056 ft sq) and includes a large central courtyard, a series of smaller rooms and several monumental structures. The palace was constructed using mudbrick and featured impressive architectural elements such as column bases and decorative plasterwork.
Excavations at Arslantepe have also uncovered evidence of a complex society with a highly developed system of trade and agriculture. Archaeologists have found evidence of large-scale grain storage, as well as artifacts such as copper tools and jewelry, suggesting that the inhabitants of Arslantepe were engaged in long-distance trade.
Other notable discoveries at Arslantepe include a large cemetery dating to the Chalcolithic period, around 4,000 BC, and evidence of a massive fire that destroyed much of the palace complex around 2,700 BC.
A chance discovery revealed that the world’s oldest swords were linked to another mislabeled sword in Italy. Father Serafino Jamourlian and Vittoria Dall'Armellina showing the sword. (Ca' Foscari University of Venice)
The Curious Case of the Mislabeled Sword
These ancient swords are linked to a mislabeled sword found in the Venetian lagoon area at Saint Lazarus monastery. Thought to resemble one of the swords found at the Arslantepe mound, it was rediscovered by Vittoria Dall'Armellina, a PhD student at Ca' Foscari University, in 2017 during a guided tour of the monastery's museum, reported CNN.
The student noticed a 17-inch-long (43 cm) metal sword that resembled those she had studied as a Bronze Age weaponry specialist. The sword was labeled as a medieval artifact, but Dall'Armellina suspected it was much older.
Two years of research confirmed her intuition. The sword, made of arsenical bronze, is among the oldest ever found, dating back 5,000 years. Chemical composition analyses conducted in partnership with the University of Padua revealed that the sword was made from an alloy of copper and arsenic that was commonly used before the use of bronze took hold.
The sword's shape matched those found in the Royal Palace of Arslantepe and the Tokat Museum, and it was buried in graves with other insignias of high-ranking social status. “Local chiefs were buried with a lot of weapons and other precious objects,” Ca’ Foscari University archaeologist Elena Rova told Live Science. “They probably wanted to emphasize their status as warriors.”
- 7 of The Most Skilled Sword Fighters in History
- 1,000-year-old Polish Boleslaw Sword Reveals Glorious Knighthood Era
Dall'Armellina partnered with Father Serafino Jamourlian, an archival researcher in the monastery, to confirm the sword's provenance. Jamourlian discovered that the sword was part of a shipment of archaeological artifacts sent by Yervant Khorasandjian, a civil engineer in the Ottoman Empire, to Father Ghevont Alishan, a historian and prominent member of the Mekhitarist congregation.
The sword was likely a “gift of thankfulness” from Khorasandjian to “the institution that forged him,” according to Jamourlian. The sword traveled from Kavak, near Trabzon, in Turkey, to Saint Lazarus between August and September 1886, as documented in correspondence between Father Minas Nurikhan and Father Alishan, reported The Daily Mail. The Saint Lazarus sword is now on display in the museum and has attracted a lot of attention.
Top image: The world’s oldest swords were discovered at Arslantepe in Turkey. Source: Klaus-Peter Simon / CC BY-SA 3.0
By Sahir Pandey
Altuntas, L. 11 March 2023. “The World’s oldest and first swords ever discovered” in Arkeonews. Available at: https://arkeonews.net/the-worlds-oldest-and-first-swords-ever-discovered/
Chadwick, J. 28 February 2020. “World's oldest surviving sword? 5,000-year-old Anatolian weapon is discovered in the Armenian Monastery of Venice after being mislabelled as 'Medieval'” in The Daily Mail. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-8055409/The-worlds-oldest-weapon-5-000-year-old-Anatolian-sword-discovered-Armenian-Monastery-Venice.html
Giulani-Hoffman, F. 25 March 2020. “5,000-year-old sword is discovered by an archaeology student at a Venetian monastery” in CNN. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/5000-year-old-sword-discovered-in-italy-trnd/index.html