Secrets of 800-year-old Crusader sword finally revealed

July 23, 2023

2 min read

An 800-year-old iron sword was discovered off the coast of Northern Israel, encrusted with sand and shells. Thanks to recent developments in technology, scientists have finally revealed its secrets.

In 2021,  Shlomi Katzin, a resident of Atlit, was diving off the coast of Israel when he found the encrusted sword. The site where the sword was found was used as early as 4,000 years ago as a natural anchorage site, and the sword indicates it was still in use 900 years ago.

The sword was in perfect condition, albeit encrusted  with shells, sands, and hardened microorganisms, also called a “biogenic crust.” This crust helped preserve the iron sword but also made it more difficult to study the artifact.

Not long after beginning to study the sword, the biogenic crust cracked, exposing and damaging a large part of the blade. Researchers decided to continue the research using only non-invasive processes.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) partnered with the Soreq Nuclear Research Center, a government research center specializing in nuclear and photonics technology, to use cutting-edge X-ray radiography technology to visually penetrate the crust and create a digital simulation of the sword. 

Noting that the blade was slightly bent and the crossbar of the handle was out of alignment, researchers concluded that the sword had most certainly been lost overboard in a battle. 

“Everything points to the fact that this sword fell into the water during a fight,” said Dr. Joppe Gosker of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “The sword was part of a knight’s or warrior’s personal equipment. It was the main weapon in hand-to-hand combat in those days,” says Gosker. “Swords required a lot of quality iron and were therefore expensive. In addition, sword fighting required training and practice and, therefore, only nobility and professional soldiers fought using them.”

Iron swords are a rare find as they were usually fixed, or the metal was melted down and repurposed.

“Being expensive, swords are usually found within a scabbard,” he added. “In this case, only the sword was found. From this, we can infer that it fell into the sea during a battle, possibly with its owner. We didn’t find any additional remains in our scans of the place, but who knows? The warrior may still lie undiscovered in the depths, to be revealed one day by the shifting sands.”

It was likely a European sword with a 12th-century blade and a 13th-century pommel.   Its blade is 88 centimeters (35 inches) long and 4.6 centimeters (1.8 inches) wide. European medieval swords were long and straight, “used for stabbing and slashing,” the researchers wrote in the article. Swords in the Islamic world during this time period generally had curved blades. Researchers believe the sword belonged to a Crusader.

“The sword was used by a Crusader warrior who settled in the country after the First Crusade and established the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1099,” said Jacob Sharvit, the director of IAA’s marine archaeology unit. “Considering the bloody battles that took place in the country between the Crusaders and the Muslims, known from several historical sources, we could expect to find more such swords. In practice, we mostly find fragments, very few whole swords. So far, seven swords from this period have been found in the country, most of them discovered in the sea,” Sharvit added.

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