Found in a Polish Forest, This Dagger Belonged to an Elite Warrior 4,000 Years Ago

A metal detectorist came across the copper artifact while searching for objects from World War I and World War II

Dagger in Hands
The dagger was discovered in a forest near Korzenica in November 2023. Łukasz Śliwiński

While searching a Polish forest in November, a metal detectorist made a rare discovery: a 4,000-year-old copper dagger that may have belonged to an elite warrior.

Piotr Gorlach, who is affiliated with the Jarosław Historical and Exploration Association, was looking for military artifacts near the southeastern village of Korzenica. Just as he was finishing up for the day, his metal detector signaled it had found something.

“When I was digging through the forest floor, I saw a flat metal object covered with a green patina,” says Gorlach in a translated statement from the Orsetti House Museum, which now possesses the artifact. “I quickly realized that I was dealing with something much older than the military items from World War I and II that I was looking for.”

Dagger Measured
The dagger is made of copper and measures just over four inches long. Łukasz Śliwiński

According to the museum, the object Gorlach unearthed is the oldest metal dagger ever discovered in southeastern Poland.

“The only similar dagger in Poland was uncovered in the [1960s], so the new find comes as a great surprise,” Marcin Burghardt, an archaeologist at the museum, tells Live Science’s Owen Jarus.

By comparing the dagger with similar weapons from Central Europe and the Ukrainian forest-steppe that have already been dated, researchers estimated it was made in the latter half of the third millennium B.C.E.

Dagger Far Away
Researchers think the dagger was primarily a status symbol. Łukasz Śliwiński

This era was a “period of enormous change” regarding the production of tools in Poland, as Burghardt says in the statement. “Instead of the flint tools commonly used in the Stone Age, more and more metal products appear, heralding the transition to the next period: the Bronze Age.”

The newly discovered dagger, which appears to predate the development of bronze metallurgy, is made of copper. In the third millennium B.C.E., copper artifacts were “extremely rare,” says Elżbieta Sieradzka-Burghardt, also an archaeologist at the museum, in the statement.

Metal items of this era were often imported from modern-day Ukraine and Hungary—meaning that only the wealthy could afford them, according to McClatchy’s Aspen Pflughoeft. The four-inch-long blade was probably owned by an elite warrior who used it as an accessory rather than a weapon.

“I think copper daggers were, first and foremost, tokens of a high social status,” Burghardt tells Live Science. “They are quite soft, so they would not be [very] useful in battle.”

The artifact will go on display in a new permanent exhibition at the museum this summer. In the meantime, researchers plan to perform a metallurgical analysis to learn more about how it was made and where it came from. As Sieradzka-Burghardt says, “There is no doubt that the dagger is not a local product.”

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