A 1,000-Year-Old Viking Sword Emerges From an English River

Discovered by a magnet fisher, the weapon dates to between 850 and 975, during the Vikings’ violent conquest of Britain

Sword Handle
Experts have confirmed that the sword belonged to a Viking, dating it to between 850 and 975. Trevor Penny

In November 2023, magnet fisher Trevor Penny was trawling for lost objects in the River Cherwell in Oxfordshire, England. The day’s search hadn’t been fruitful, yielding only scaffolding poles, Penny tells Live Science’s Sascha Pare. Then, his magnet attached to a different kind of object.

“What is this?” Penny recalls asking a nearby friend. “He came running over, shouting, ‘It looks like a sword!’”

At the end of the line was a long, corroded weapon, complete with a handle, blade and spots of rust. Penny posted photos of the discovery on a Facebook page for the local magnet fishing community, writing, “Only out for a couple of hours today and had my best-ever find!” (According to BBC News’ Samantha Fisher, magnet fishing involves “dangling a magnet attached to a rope into water to locate metallic finds.” The hobby can be dangerous, with magnet fishers previously unearthing live grenades and other ordnance.)

Penny and Sword
Penny posted this photo of himself with the sword on a Facebook page dedicated to magnet fishing in Thame, England. Trevor Penny

Initially suspecting the sword was medieval, Penny contacted the Oxfordshire County Council’s finds liaison officer, who recorded the sword’s discovery and brought it to experts for an examination, reports Metro’s Sara Odeen-Isbister. Those scholars dated the sword to between 850 and 975, concluding the weapon once belonged to a Viking.

In the mid-ninth century, when the sword was forged, the Vikings were at odds with Britain’s Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The Scandinavian pagans first arrived on the British Isles in the late eighth century, conducting a violent raid on the Northumbrian Lindisfarne monastery in 793. From there, the Vikings embarked on a conquest of Britain, raiding coastal communities with increasingly large and brutal armies. According to English Heritage, a charity that oversees hundreds of historic sites, “The Vikings entered written history in a maelstrom of fire and blood.”

By 871, Vikings had destroyed the armies of Northumbria, East Anglia and Mercia, taking over large areas of northern and eastern England. Over the following centuries, Scandinavian power and influence clung to the regions, becoming part of British history. Norse words were integrated into the English language, Danes became common villains in British folktales and Scandinavian descendants took root across the country. Per English Heritage, “In this sense, the Vikings never left England.”

Sword Length
Penny found the sword in a river in Oxfordshire, a county in southeastern England. Trevor Penny

Viking warriors attached great importance to their swords, which were sometimes named and passed down through the generations. Usually double-edged, the weapons were occasionally decorated with engraved patterns. The newly discovered sword has now been acquired by the Oxfordshire Museum Service, which may eventually put it on display, reports the Oxford Mail’s Liam J. Davies.

“It’s the oldest thing found in this county magnet fishing,” Penny tells the Oxford Mail. “The officer said it was archaeologically rare to find whole swords and treasure of historical importance still intact. It was a proud moment to find it.”

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