Dark Age warrior wore a sword prosthesis in place of his hand


SOME 1300 years ago, a Dark Ages warrior met his match.

His right forearm was severed.

He was left with no sword hand.

He could have given up, there and then.

Instead, he had blade bound with leather and strapped to the stump of his arm.

Italian archaeologists have uncovered a burial in a Povegliano Veronese necropolis. It dates from the 6th to 8th centuries AD.

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Around the prosthetic-clad warrior were buried many adult men with weapons at their side. One pit even contained a headless horse and several greyhounds.

But, according to a new study in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences, this one warrior stood out as unique.

Whomever he was, he was not a young man.

And he had a few stories to tell.


Researchers used a CAT scanner to accurately model the right arm and blade of the skeleton which was first recovered in the early 1990s.

When it was excavated, archaeologists found the decomposed remains of a D-shaped metal buckle and organic material — most likely leather. A long rusted blade lay across his torso, extending from the stump of his right arm.

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“One possibility is that the limb was amputated for medical reasons; perhaps the forelimb was broken due to an accidental fall or some other means, resulting in an unhealable fracture,” Sapienza University archaeologist Ileana Micarelli and colleagues write.

It also could have been “due to judicial punishment.”

“Still, given the warrior-specific culture of the Longobard people, a loss due to fighting is also possible.”

The researchers marvel at the fact this man, aged somewhere in his 40s or 50s, managed to survive the wound. Especially in an era centuries before antibiotics.


All the evidence points to the warrior living with his prosthetic sword limb for quite some time.

The teeth on the right side of the man’s mouth were virtually worn away. So much so that he was suffering an infected jaw bone at the time of his death. And his right shoulder joint was also distorted with an unusual C-shaped ridge of bone.

The researchers suggest this was because the man had been forced to frequently tighten the leather straps of his prosthesis with his teeth.

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The bones of his forearm also tell a tale. The two ends show evidence of pressure having shaped the bones into a callus, with a bone spur.

This could have been the result of long-term pressure from a tight prosthesis.

“The survival of this Longobard male testifies to community care, family compassion, and a high value given to human life,” the researchers write. “Not only did he adjust very well to his condition, he did so with the use of a culturally-derived device, along with considerable community support.”



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