Sword discovered by diver may have been weapon of crusader commander

Expert says discovery is the first of its kind in the Scottish Highlands

An old sword has been unearthed in a sea cave in the Scottish Highlands, which could have been a prized weapon of an early Christian crusader commander, an expert says.

The weapon was discovered in a cave by a diver exploring a Roman quarry in Benbecula, the largest island in the Western Isles.

It is the first such find in the area, the archaeological expert Dr Tom Holland said.

Dan O’Brien, a salvage diver and diver surveyor, discovered the weapon in a crevice at the end of his 5,000m climb inside the ancient Roman quarry.

The ancient Roman quarry at Benbecula, the largest island in the Western Isles. Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/Corbis via Getty Images

He said: “I go scuba diving often and have been on diving expeditions up and down the Forth and the Moray Firth but I have never before encountered a similarly strong, curved, metallic sword, so it was something I knew had to be a piece of jewellery that had fallen into my hand.

“I would estimate that the sword was around 900 years old, based on the quality of the musket balls I found alongside it.”

The morse code “xXX” was engraved in what appears to be an engraving of a Christian cross, he said.

The weapon has yet to be tested but it is feared it could have been a trefoil dagger – a distinctive medieval weapon with a long blade, made from gold, enamel or silver.

The intrepid diver contacted Dr Holland at the National Maritime Museum in Dundee after the find last autumn.

Holland described the find as “exciting”. He said: “It looks as though the trefoil dagger blade, which would have gone on to form the handle, was overworked and bent on to the blade. The dagger handle was then hammered and worn into use.

“The helmet, lying suspended from the blade, is believed to have originally been made from mica as a mace.”

The Divers Ambassadors Association (DAA) had plans to repatriate the sword to the UK and possibly to China.

Dr Robin Chalmers, head of the DAA, said: “I am absolutely delighted to hear that the sword has been found and found so well.

“Although no authentication will be possible until we do some testing, it seems to be what we would expect to find for an example of this style sword, all the more so because this treasure appeared in a piece of iron which had fallen into Mr O’Brien’s hand.

“As the rest of the sword can now be recovered, it seems likely that a pilgrimage by the sword to China or beyond may be on the cards, which would represent an unexpected further boon to one of the rarest items of armour in the collection of the National Maritime Museum in Dundee.”

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