Image: PAP/ Wojciech Pacewicz

Late last month, an excavator operator was working at a peat bog in the Polish municipality of Mircze when he accidentally stumbled upon this glorious specimen of 14th century craftsmanship. The remarkably well-preserved longsword is a unique find for the area, and its discovery has prompted an archaeological expedition.

The discoverer of the long sword, Wojciech Kot, donated the artifact to the Fr. Stanisław Staszic Museum in Hrubieszów, and the museum’s staff is currently analyzing the medieval weapon. The sword is badly corroded, but considering it’s been buried in a peat bog for over 600 years, its condition is rather remarkable. Only the original hilt, which was likely made from bone, wood, or antler, is completely gone.

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Originally, this 14th century sword measured 47 inches long (120 cm), and weighed a mere 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg). “The elongated grip was intended for two-handed use which coupled with its long reach and light weight made the sword an agile weapon for armoured knights in battle,” notes The History Blog. “This design is typical of the 14th century.”

Image: Fr. Stanisław Staszic Museum

The rear bar of the sword features an isosceles cross inscribed inside the shape of a heraldic shield, which was probably made by the blacksmith. As Fr. Stanisław Staszic Museum director Bartłomiej Bartecki explained to Poland’s public science site PAP, this symbol was likely the maker’s brand, and would normally be obscured by the sword’s hilt.

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“This is a unique find in the region,” Staszic told PAP. “It is worth pointing out that while there are similar artefacts in museum collections, their places of discovery is often unknown, and that is very important information for historians and archaeologists.” As to how the sword ended up in a peat bog, Staszic says it’s “possible that an unlucky knight was pulled into the marsh, or simply lost his sword.”

A quick history lesson from The History Blog explains the sword’s likely origins:

The area is first appears on the historical record in the 13th century where it’s mentioned as the site of a few hunting lodges surrounded by forest. The region was part of Ruthenia (aka the Kievan Rus) then and was absorbed by the Kingdom of Poland in 1366 century after the disintegration of the Rus. The Polish governor built a castle in Hrubieszów in the late 14th century. So at least the second half of the century offered good employment opportunity for knights. Or he could have just been riding through and made a wrong turn into the bog.

In the coming days and weeks, archaeologists will carry out limited excavations at the peat bog where the sword was found; the researchers are hoping to find the missing elements of the knight’s equipment, and other clues that could explain how the weapon ended up where it did. As for the sword itself, it’s still undergoing analysis, and it will eventually be preserved and put on display at the museum.

As an important aside, much of this unidentified bog (its location is being kept a secret to prevent looting) is in the process of being drained, which is why it was discovered in the first place. While that’s certainly fortuitous, it’s worth noting that peat bogs play an important environmental role, capable of mitigating the effects of climate change. And as this episode shows, they also contain the preserved remnants of our cultural heritage. Best we remember that before we drain the swamps.

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[Science & Scholarship in Poland via The History Blog]