A metal detectorist has unearthed a pair of 1,800-year-old Roman cavalry swords, still encased in the remnants of their wooden sheaths.
In March, Glenn Manning was attending a metal detectorist rally in the North Cotswolds, a region in southern England, when he stumbled upon the rare artifacts.
Archaeologists are now studying the swords and hope to put them on display at the Corinium Museum in Cirencester, England, next year.
“People famously asked, ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’” says Paul Hodgkinson, the Cotswold District Council member for leisure, culture and health, in a statement. “Well, they have just given us some amazing examples of weapons used almost 2,000 years ago when Cirencester was the second biggest town in Britain.”
The swords are likely a type of weapon known as a spatha, which Roman soldiers used from around the year 160 to the third century C.E. Because of their long, straight blades, they were handy for Roman officers—or even civilians—to have with them while riding on horseback.
“It was not illegal for civilians to own such weapons and to carry them for traveling because Roman provinces were plagued with banditry,” per the statement.
Because of the troops’ extra height on horseback, spatha were typically “longer than the Roman gladius, which was often used by Roman foot soldiers,” as Jennifer Nalewicki writes for Live Science.
Finding multiple Roman swords together in Britain is rare, according to Simon James, an archaeologist at England’s University of Leicester, who analyzed the weapons.
“In terms of parallels, I can’t think of finds of more than one sword being deposited in any similar circumstance from Roman Britain,” says James in the statement. “The closest that springs to mind was a pair of similar swords found in Canterbury—with their owners, face down in a pit within the city walls, clearly a clandestine burial, almost certainly a double murder.”
To learn more about the swords, archaeologists may take X-rays of them and even revisit the site where they were found. Near the weapons, Manning also discovered a broken bowl made of copper alloy.
“The question is—and the mystery is—why were those swords buried in the north of the Cotswolds?” says Emma Stuart, director of the Corinium Museum, in a YouTube video. “What were they doing there?”
Earlier this summer, archaeologists in Germany found the remains of a Frankish medieval warrior who had been buried with a 1,300-year-old spatha. And just last month, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of four 1,900-year-old, Roman-era swords from a cave near the Dead Sea. Three of those swords had long blades like spatha, while the fourth was a shorter ring-pommel sword.