Early medieval attic find

Discovered by chance in the attic: a sax and a spearhead from the late 7th century. (Image: University of Innsbruck)

Archaeological treasures do not only lie dormant in the ground: the University of Innsbruck reports the discovery of two rare weapons from the Carolingian period that were stored in an attic in Tyrol. According to the investigations, the pieces, which are over 1300 years old, are a short sword – a so-called sax – and a spearhead. How they once got into the attic remains unclear. However, the experts explain that they originally come from a warrior’s grave.

The find history actually goes back 30 years, as the finder Robert Bachmann from Innsbruck reports: “When we cleaned out the attic in the course of renovation work on my house, I came across the two metal objects. I then stored them in my apartment for around 30 years. It wasn’t until I happened to have a conversation with an archaeologist Hannes Lehar from the University of Innsbruck that I remembered them and asked him to make an assessment, ”says Bachmann. The archaeologist recognized the possible meaning of the find and so the investigation story began: The finder agreed to hand the objects over to the Institute of Archeology for further analysis.

Around 1300 years old!

Lehar turned to a specialist in medieval weapons at the University of Innsbruck for a more detailed assessment of the finds: “When he showed me the finds, I was very surprised,” says Florian Messner. “Loft finds are usually a maximum of 200 to 300 years old.” However, due to its characteristics, the expert estimated the pieces in the late 7th century. According to him, it is the remains of a sax and a spearhead. Even if it looks different at first glance, according to him, both objects found are in excellent condition considering their age.

“Saxes can be dated very well. This type of short sword always has a broad blade back and is only ground on one side – the length, the one-sided cut and the wide back at the find are typical of a heavy broad sax from the early Middle Ages, ”explains Messner. This weapon was often used by mercenaries as a cutting and stabbing weapon along with a shield and a spear. The fact that the sax was found together with a spearhead suggests that the finds originally came from a warrior’s grave: “At that time, warriors were often buried together with sax, spear and shield,” explains Messner.

Rusty – but still well preserved

According to the expert, the spearhead is also something special: “It is a strange type that we have not yet been able to precisely identify. However, this is typical of the early Middle Ages, because in contrast to the sax, which required very good blacksmithing skills, every capable village blacksmith was able to forge a spearhead. For this reason, there are no standardizations here as with complex forged weapons, ”explains the expert on medieval weapons.

A restoration for which the team is currently looking for a financing option could now reveal further details. “If the remnants of the scabbard are removed as part of the restoration, the blade of the sword could also be damaged. This is a way of manufacturing steel that leaves a wavy pattern on the blade, which was common at the time for high-quality blades, ”says Messner. According to him, the restoration could also clarify the interesting question of whether it was a weapon made only for the funeral or whether it was actually used around 1300 years ago.

Source: University of Innsbruck

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