Teenager finds 2,000 year-old Roman dagger

The rare artifact was unrecognizable under thick layers of rust
roman dagger This beautiful dagger and sheath are a special find for any archeologist. (LWL/Eugen Müsch)


What do you want to be when you grow up?

No matter what you choose, many people get their first experience in an new career as an intern. It's like a test run—the ice cream flavour taster spoon of jobs.

Over a couple of months or so, interns perform smaller tasks, watch how the pros handle their day-to-day, and hope to learn a little something extra that will lead to the job of their dreams.

And sometimes, along the way, they discover 2,000-year-old Roman daggers that senior researchers spend their entire careers trying to find.

Okay that almost never happens. But in the case of 19-year-old German Nico Calman, it did! Whoa, talk about beginner's luck! Here's how it happened ...

Empire outpost

The dagger wasn't much to look at at first ... (LWL/Josef Mühlenbrock)

Nico was working with the Westphalie Department for the Preservation and Care of Field Monuments last summer. The archeological team he was with was on a dig near Haltern am See (Haltern by the Lake), a town in western Germany. During the reign of Caesar Augustus (27 BCE–14 CE), this was the location of a Roman base.

The base was found at the very northern edge of the empire, and it was not a safe place. In fact, one of the worst defeats of the armies of Rome came here in 9 CE at the hands of Germanic tribes. Perhaps not surprisingly, nearby the base was a burial site for Roman soldiers.

This is where the dig was. And where Nico discovered a peculiar foot-long rusty lump. A lump that turned out to be a Roman dagger that dated back to the first century CE!

Rare find

... but X-rays confirmed that there was something special inside! (LWL/Eugen Müsch)

You might think that finding a Roman dagger at a site where soldiers were buried would not be that difficult. But Roman soldiers were rarely buried with their weapons, making this a rare find. The dagger was encased in thick layers of rust, making it look as much like a small mud-caked branch as anything else. But X-rays showed that there was something very special hidden underneath.

It took months worth of careful sandblasting and delicate chipping to remove the layers. The dagger itself is beautifully designed and very well preserved. Not only was it still in its sheath (case), it also included the soldier's belt that the dagger would've hung from. Amazing!

All of the experts can agree that Nico's discovery was spectacular. And it sounds like he may even have a future in this archeology thing! But if we could offer one piece of advice, it would be this:

Maybe don't expect to find a rare, perfectly preserved dagger on every dig!


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  1. That is one amazing find!When I grow up I want to be a archeologist but the closest thing I have found is a old shell fossil

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