In 2017, an Italian student Vittoria Dall’Armellina was visiting the Mkhitarist monastery on San Lazzaro in Venice when she spotted a familiar looking sword. The sword was mistakenly labelled as a medieval artefact and was thought to be a few hundred years old.
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 artefact back 5,000 years, according to an announcement from the university.
The University contacted the Mekhitarist congregation at San Lazzaro degli Armeni to find out more details about the object.
Father Serafino Jamourlian researched the archives and manage to find out its history. The sword was apparently sent in a donation of gifts from an Armenian art collector named Yervant Khorasandjian, to a monk named Ghevond Alishan, known as Father Leonzio, about 150 years ago.
Alishan was a famous poet and writer who was a friend of the famed English art critic John Ruskin; Alishan died in 1901, and his belongings passed on to his monastery.
According to a document that accompanied the donation, handwritten in Armenian and dating from the second half of the 19th century, the sword was found in historic Armenia minor, at Kavak, a settlement near Trabzon.
A surprising detail is that the sword was made of arsenical copper, an alloy of copper and arsenic used about 5,000 years ago, before true bronze was invented by alloying copper and tin. The sword was crafted during the era of the Kura–Araxes culture at the sight where the tribe named Hayasa was later described by the Hittites.
Archaeologists think swords were invented in that region, and the sword from San Lazzaro degli Armeni is now thought to be an early example — perhaps even the oldest.
It is well known that ancient Armenia was one of the earliest metallurgical centers. Ca’ Foscari University archaeologist Elena Rova told Live Science:
“It seems that in this area, between the northern Caucasus and eastern Anatolia, the sword was invented, and there were at least two typological variants,”
At Metsamor (Armenia) for example a 6000 year old metal smelting foundry was discovered, considered the worlds oldest. The foundry is known to have extracted and processed gold, copper, and several types of manganese, zinc, strychnine, mercury, and iron.