Medieval sword found on seabed was likely lost during naval battle

Evidence of a naval engagement from the Crusades has been discovered in the form of a medieval sword located off Israel's Hof HaCarmel coast, which has been estimated to have been lost approximately 900 years ago.

In 2021, Shlomi Katzin came across a sword during a research of stone and metal anchors on the seabed in an area that had been used as a natural harbor for vessels close to the old port city of Haifa, which was taken by the Crusaders from the Arabs in the early 12th century.

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A diver discovered the 900-year-old sword in a natural cove off the coast of northern Israel. Shlomi Katzin / Israel Antiquities Authority / Fair Use

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) recently published a study which details the discovery of a sword that had been partially covered in a protective layer of sand and shells. This thick outer layer of marine concretion made it difficult to separate the metal without causing damage, but it also preserved the sword. Had the concretion not been present, the oxidation process would have caused the sword to rust and disintegrate.

A thorough X-ray analysis was done to uncover the layers of the concretions, and the findings showed the sword had a blade that was 88 cm in length and 4.6 cm in width. It appears as though it was bent in battle.

Dr. Joppe Gosker comments that swords were the primary weapon used in hand-to-hand combat for knights and soldiers in the past. He notes that due to the necessity of quality iron for the blades, they were costly, and as swordplay required practice and instruction, only the nobility and specially-trained military personnel had access to them.

Researchers suggest that the sword may have ended up in the ocean during a maritime battle, accompanied by its owner. It is possible that it was part of a fleet that was laying siege to a coastal settlement, or it could have been of a knight who was coming back to Europe on a vessel.

No other artifacts or signs of human remains have been uncovered during a survey of the region where it was found; however, Gosker stated: “It’s conceivable that the soldier is still buried deep in the sand, perhaps to be unearthed some day.”

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Diver Shlomi Katzin with the sword. Image Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority / Fair Use

Eli Escusido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said: All along the coast of Israel, there are many finds buried beneath the sand and in the sea, and they are often lost forever, or sometimes discovered by chance. It is important that qualified archaeologists record the finds and their contexts.”