Rare 'Excalibur' sword from Spain dates to Islamic period 1,000 years ago

A scientist measures the "Excalibur" sword while wearing white gloves against a white background.
A sword nicknamed Excalibur was found to date to the Islamic period of Spain during the 10th century. (Image credit: Valencia City Council Archaeology Service)

A rare sword nicknamed ''Excalibur'' from the Spanish city of Valencia is 1,000 years old, meaning it was last wielded when much of Spain was controlled by Muslim rulers, new research reveals. 

The 18-inch-long (46 centimeters) iron sword was found in an upright position inside a grave in 1994, leading its finder to call it "Excalibur" after the legendary sword of King Arthur, who, according to medieval folklore, pulled an upright sword out of a stone and then ascended the throne of Britain. 

The Valencia sword was found in an Islamic-era house north of the ancient Roman forum. The hilt of the sword is decorated with bronze plates and contains notches that made the sword easier to handle, city of Valencia officials said in a translated statement

Even though the blade was found in an Islamic-era abode, one feature made the sword difficult to date: The sword curves slightly toward the tip. This characteristic is also seen in swords made by the Visigoths, who ruled Spain from A.D. 418 to 711, the statement said. This raised the question of whether the sword dated to Visigothic or Islamic (711 to 1492) times. 

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To answer this question, the city paid a scholarship to José Miguel Osuna, an archaeologist at the University of Granada, to date the sword. By studying the weapon's metalwork and the sediments in which the sword was found, he determined that the sword dates to the 10th century, when Valencia was under Muslim rule and its name was Balansiya. 

He also found that the weapon's size and lack of a hand guard suggested that the sword was used by a horseman. The research has not yet been published in a scientific journal. 

The artifact is a rare find; it's the first sword from the Islamic period to be unearthed in Valencia, according to the statement.

During the time of Muslim rule architecture, art and literature prospered. The last Muslim state in Spain came to an end in 1492, when the emirate of Granada surrendered to the forces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

Scholars and city officials involved with the research did not return requests for comment by the time of publication.

Owen Jarus
Live Science Contributor

Owen Jarus is a regular contributor to Live Science who writes about archaeology and humans' past. He has also written for The Independent (UK), The Canadian Press (CP) and The Associated Press (AP), among others. Owen has a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Toronto and a journalism degree from Ryerson University.