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Medieval Sword, Blade Still Sharp, Pulled From Sewer in Denmark

Experts think its owner may have been defeated in battle and dropped the luxurious weapon in the muddy streets

Plumber planner Jannick Vestergaard and engineer Henning Nøhr posing with their discovery. (Nordjyllands Historiske Museum)
smithsonian.com

A sword was a status symbol in the Middle Ages, toted around both on and off the battlefield and frequently interred with its owner as a precious grave good. So it came as something of a surprise when a very fine medieval sword was recently found deep within a sewer in Denmark.

As Live Science’s Laura Geggel reports, the relic was uncovered by pipe layer Jannick Vestergaard and engineer Henning Nøhr, who were conducting work on a street in Aalborg, Denmark’s fourth-largest city.

According to the Local Denmark, the sword was subsequently examined by Kenneth Nielsen, an archaeologist at the Historical Museum of Northern Jutland. In a statement by the museum, Nielsen said the sword was found in a layer of waste that had formed on top of the oldest layer of pavement running through Algade, one of the city’s central streets. “Findings from here have always pointed to the 1300s,” he explained.

But it is possible that the sword was forged some time earlier than that. Experts think it may have been in use by the 12th century, suggesting that it had a rich history by the time it was discarded on the ground in Aalborg. And though the sword wasn’t buried in a warrior’s grave, as is typical for artifacts like this, the museum says that it is “completely intact and well-preserved”—so well preserved, in fact, that the double-edged blade is “still sharp.”

Weighing in just over 2 pounds, the sword was rendered with a recess called a “blodrille,” which translates to “blood groove,” and in spite of its macabre name, simply helped make the weapon lighter. A disc-shaped knob, or pommel, crowns the sword’s hilt, and a metal bar over the blade would have protected its owner’s hand. The quality of the craftsmanship is, according to the museum, “extremely high.”

How did this luxurious weapon end up in sewer sludge? Experts can’t say for certain, but Nielsen suggests that it may have been lost during a violent battle. For much of the 13th century, according to the statement, Denmark was beset by power struggles and “civil-war-like conditions”; perhaps during one of these conflicts, the sword was dropped and pushed so deeply into the mud that it went unnoticed for centuries.

“The best explanation we can come up with is that the owner of the sword was defeated in a battle,” Nielsen elaborates, according to the Local. “In the tumult, it was then trod down into the layer of mud that formed the street back then.”

The weapon has now been cleaned and preserved, and it's set to go on view at the Aalborg Historical Museum, which is located on Algade street, not far from where the sword was first discovered. Archaeologists, for their part, will continue to keep an eye on sewage work being conducted in the area, in case additional artifacts from Aalborg’s medieval history come to light.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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