Amateur Archaeologist in Switzerland Unearths 2,000-Year-Old Roman Dagger

Lucas Schmid’s find led to the discovery of hundreds of other ancient artifacts linked to a 15 B.C.E. battle between imperial and Rhaetian forces

Inlaid with silver and brass, the ancient Roman dagger is in remarkably good condition. Archaeological Service of Graubünden

Around 15 B.C.E., imperial Roman troops clashed with Rhaetian tribesmen near a gorge in Switzerland. Following the battle, one of the legionaries dug a hole and buried his dagger, possibly as an offering to the gods.

That’s where the ornate pugio remained until 2019, when an amateur archaeologist surveyed the site with a metal detector, reports Swiss Radio and Television (SRF). The find by then-dental student Lucas Schmid led to the discovery of hundreds of additional artifacts, including Roman slingshots, horseshoe nails, coins and parts of shields. These objects are now being displayed for the first time by the Archaeological Service of Graubünden (ADG).

“It’s fair to say that this is certainly my most spectacular find to date,” Schmid tells Matthew Allen of SWI

A volunteer wielding a metal detector searches the ancient battlefield site. Peter-Andrew Schwarz / University of Basel

According to archaeologists, the Roman dagger is in remarkably good condition. Schmid uncovered the short sword, inlaid with silver and brass, beneath about 12 inches of soil. Though researchers thought that metal detectorists had found most of the battlefield’s artifacts following its rediscovery some 20 years ago, Schmid had a hunch otherwise.

“I suspected that the entire site had not been searched meticulously yet,” he tells Tom Metcalfe of Live Science, adding, “It was clear to me that more artifacts could be expected.”

After Schmid reported the discovery to local authorities, ADG teams began an intensive search of the site, which is located near the Crap Ses Gorge and the mountain village of Tiefencastel in Switzerland’s Graubünden canton. They soon discovered a hoard of both Roman and Rhaetian artifacts.

L to R: The dagger prior to restoration, as seen in an X-ray and after restoration
L to R: The dagger prior to restoration, as seen in an X-ray and after restoration Archaeological Service of Graubünden

“It is not only the outstanding individual objects such as the dagger ... that are interesting, but also the large number and composition of the found objects,” team member Peter-Andrew Schwarz, an archaeologist at the University of Basel, tells Live Science.

Slingshot stones unearthed on the field feature inscriptions by the Roman legions that made them. Archaeologists also found other weapons, including spearheads that appear to be Roman and fragments of Rhaetian swords, shields and spearheads.

The Rhaetians, or Raeti, were a confederation of tribes that lived in the Alpine regions of what are now Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Germany. They initially opposed Roman occupation, fighting a series of battles against the invaders in the first century B.C.E. Archaeologists suspect that the clash near the gorge took place around 15 B.C.E., when Roman Emperor Augustus ordered a military campaign to control the Alps.

(Teil 3) Spurensuche: Archäologie in Graubünden

“The fieldwork will continue next year, and we assume that more coins or other finds will come to light that allow an even more precise dating,” ADG Director Thomas Reitmaier tells Live Science.

For Schmid, finding the dagger was the discovery of a lifetime. Now that he’s a certified dentist, the amateur archaeologist has no plans to turn professional, though he continues to volunteer at the battlefield site.

“Of course, I am pleased that what I have done has made a difference,” Schmid tells SRF, per Google Translate.

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