Goujian: The Ancient Chinese Sword that Defied Time

Goujian: The Ancient Chinese Sword that Defied Time


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Fifty years ago, a rare and unusual sword was found in a tomb in China. Despite being well over 2,000 years old, the sword, known as the Goujian, did not have a single trace of rust. The blade drew blood when an archeologist tested his finger on its edge, seemingly unaffected by the passage of time. Besides this strange quality, the craftsmanship was highly detailed for a sword made such a long time ago. Regarded as a state treasure in China today, the sword is as legendary to the Chinese people as King Arthur's Excalibur in the West.

In 1965, archaeologists were carrying out a survey in Hubei province, just 7 km (4 miles) from the ruins of Jinan, capital of the ancient Chu state, when they discovered fifty ancient tombs. During the excavations of the tombs, researchers unearthed the sword of Goujian alongside 2,000 other artifacts.

Discovery of the Goujian

According to the leader of the archeological team responsible for the excavation, it was discovered in a tomb, in a near air-tight wooden box next to a skeleton. The team was stunned when the perfectly preserved bronze sword with scabbard was removed from the box. When it was unsheathed, the blade was revealed to be untarnished despite being buried in damp conditions for two millennia. A test conducted by the archaeologists showed that the blade could easily cut a stack of twenty pieces of paper.

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Sword of Goujian, Hubei Provincial Museum ( Wikimedia Commons )

Jian swords

The Sword of Goujian is one of the earliest known Jian swords, a double-edged straight sword used during the last 2,500 years in China. Jian swords are among the earliest sword types in China and are closely associated with Chinese mythology. In Chinese folklore, it is known as "The Gentleman of Weapons" and is considered one of the four major weapons, along with the staff, spear, and the sabre.

One iron and two bronze Jian swords from the Chinese Warring states period ( Wikimedia Commons )

Relatively short compared to similar historical pieces, the Gouijan sword is a bronze sword with a high concentration of copper, making it more pliant and less likely to shatter. The edges are made of tin, making them harder and capable of retaining a sharper edge. There are also small amounts of iron, lead and sulfur in the sword, and research has revealed a high proportion of sulfur and sulfide cuprum, which gives the sword its rustproof quality. Black rhombic etchings cover both sides of the blade and blue glaze and turquoise is imbedded on the sword handle. The grip of the sword is bound by silk while the pommel is composed of 11 concentric circles. The sword measures 55.7 cm long (21.9 in), including an 8.4 cm (3.3 in) handle hilt, and has a 4.6 cm (1.8 in) wide blade. It weighs 875 grams (30.9) oz.

The turquoise can be seen embedded in the sword s handle ( Wikimedia Commons )

Deciphering the inscription

On one side of the blade, two columns of text are visible with eight characters, near the hilt, that are in ancient Chinese script. The script, known as "鸟虫文" (literally "'birds and worms' characters") is characterized by intricate decorations to the defining strokes, and is a variant of zhuan that is very difficult to read. Initial analyses deciphered six of these eight characters. They read, "越王" (King of Yue) and "自作用剑" ("made this sword for (his) personal use"). The remaining two characters are likely the name of the king.

Deciphering the scripts on the Sword of Goujian ( Wikipedia)

From its birth in 510 BC to its demise at the hands of Chu in 334 BC, nine kings ruled Yue, including Goujian, Lu Cheng, Bu Shou, and Zhu Gou, among others. The identity of the king that owned the sword sparked debate among archaeologists and Chinese language scholar. After more than two months, the experts formed a consensus that the original owner of the sword was Goujian (496 – 465 BC), making the sword around 2,500 years old.

King Goujian of Yue ( Wikimedia Commons )

Goujian was a famous emperor in Chinese history who reigned over the Yue State during the Spring and Autumn Period (771 - 476 BC). This was a time marked by chaos within the Zhou Dynasty and takes its name from the Spring and Autumn Annals, which chronicled this period. The Spring and Autumn Period was renowned for military expeditions; these conflicts led to the perfecting of weapons to the point that they were incredibly resistant and deadly, taking years to forge and lasting for centuries. The story of Goujian and Fuchai, King of the Wu state, contending for hegemony is famous throughout China. Although Goujian’s kingdom was initially defeated by the State of Wu, Goujian would lead his army to victory 10 years later.

Unique properties

Besides its historic value, many scholars have wondered how this sword could have remained rust-free in a humid environment, for more than 2,000 years, and how the delicate decorations were carved into the sword. The sword of Goujian is still as sharp today as when it was originally crafted, and not a single spot of rust can be found on the body today.

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The Goujian sword is as sharp today as it was over two millennia ago ( Wikimedia Commons )

Researchers analyzed ancient bronze shards in the hope of finding a way to replicate the technology used to create the sword. They found that the sword is resistant to oxidation as a result of sulphation on the surface of the sword. This, combined with an air-tight scabbard, allowed the legendary sword to be found in such pristine condition.

Tests also show that the sword-smiths of the Wu and Yue regions in Southern China during the Spring and Autumn Period reached such a high level of metallurgy that they were able to incorporate rust-proof alloys into their blades, helping them survive the ages relatively unblemished.

Sword Damaged

In 1994, the Sword of Goujian was loaned for display in Singapore. As a workman was removing the sword from its case at the conclusion of the exhibition, he knocked the weapon, causing a 7mm-long crack. The damage caused uproar in China and it was never allowed outside the country again. It is now kept at the Hubei Provincial Museum.


2,500-Year-Old Chinese Sword Still Looks and Cuts Like New

There are many distinctive swords throughout history, but few are as renowned as the Sword of Goujian. This ancient Chinese dagger is more than 2,500 years old. Because of its still-impeccable condition, however, it's considered one of those swords that mythically defies the tests of time.

In 1965, an excavation team discovered the Sword of Goujian in a tomb in Hubei, China. Encased in a nearly air-tight wooden box next to a skeleton, archaeologists believe that it&rsquos an artifact from 771 to 403 BC. They were stunned that its blade was perfectly untarnished&mdashdespite being buried in damp conditions for over two millennia. This unusual resistance to deterioration is rare in artifacts that date back this far. It's still sharp, too. A test affirmed that the blade could easily cut a stack of twenty pieces of paper.

The Sword of Goujian was discovered among 50 ancient tombs and more than 2,000 other artifacts. It measures 22 inches in length and has beautiful repeating dark rhombi patterns on both sides of the blade. In addition, there are delicate embellishments of blue crystals and turquoise, as well as concentric circles designed around the handle. Exquisitely forged from copper and tin, the markings on the sword also remain in excellent condition.

The decorative patterns are accompanied by text. Two columns containing eight characters are engraved on one side of the blade in an ancient writing called bird-worm seal script. After months of debate as to the historical owner of the sword, experts have attributed it to the King of Yue, who's famous for his perseverance in time of hardship. The script reads, &ldquoKing of Yue&rdquo and &ldquomade this sword for [his] personal use.&rdquo

To see all the artifacts excavated from the Jinan site, visit the Hubei Provincial Museum, where the sword is on display.

Hubei Provincial Museum: Website
via: [Neatorama, The Vintage News]


In 1965, while an archaeological survey was being performed along the second main aqueduct of the Zhang River Reservoir in Jingzhou, Hubei, a series of ancient tombs were discovered in Jiangling County. A dig started in the middle of October 1965, ending in January 1966, eventually revealing more than fifty ancient tombs of the Chu State.

More than 2,000 artifacts were recovered from the sites, including an ornate bronze sword, found inside a casket together with a human skeleton. The casket was discovered in December 1965, at Wangshan site #1, 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) from the ruins of Ying, currently called Jinancheng 纪南 ), an ancient capital of Chu.

The sword was found sheathed in a wooden scabbard finished in black lacquer. The scabbard had an almost air-tight fit with the sword body. Unsheathing the sword revealed an untarnished blade, despite the tomb being soaked in underground water for over 2,000 years. [1]

On one side of the blade, two columns of text are visible. Eight characters are written in an ancient script, now known as Bird-worm seal script (literally "birds and worms characters", owing to the intricate decorations of the defining strokes), a variant of seal script. Initial analysis of the text deciphered six of the characters, "King of Yue" (越王) and "made this sword for [his] personal use" (自作用劍). The remaining two characters were assumed to be the name of the particular King of Yue.

From the sword's origin in 510 BC to its demise at the hands of the Chu in 334 BC, nine kings ruled Yue, including Goujian, Lu Cheng, Bu Shou, and Zhu Gou. The identity of the king in the sword inscription sparked debate among archeologists and Chinese language scholars. The discussion was carried out mostly via letter, and involved famous scholars such as Guo Moruo. After more than two months, the experts [ who? ] started to form a consensus that the original owner of the sword was Goujian (勾踐), the King of Yue made famous by his perseverance in time of hardship.

The sword of Goujian is 55.6 centimetres (21.9 in) in length, including an 8.4 centimetres (3.3 in) hilt the blade is 4.6 centimetres (1.8 in) wide at its base. The sword weighs 875 grams (30.9 oz). In addition to the repeating dark rhombi pattern on both sides of the blade, there are decorations of blue crystals and turquoise. The grip of the sword is bound by silk, while the pommel is composed of eleven concentric circles.

Chemical composition Edit

The Sword of Goujian still has a sharp blade and shows no signs of tarnish. To understand why, scientists at Fudan University and CAS used modern equipment to determine the chemical composition of the sword, as shown in the table below.

Amount of elements by percentage Edit

Part examined Copper Tin Lead Iron Sulfur Arsenic
Blade 80.3 18.8 0.4 0.4 trace
Yellow pattern 83.1 15.2 0.8 0.8 trace
Dark pattern 73.9 22.8 1.4 1.8 trace trace
Darkest regions 68.2 29.1 0.9 1.2 0.5 trace
Edge 57.3 29.6 8.7 3.4 0.9 trace
Central ridge 41.5 42.6 6.1 3.7 5.9 trace

The body of the blade is mainly made of copper, making it more pliant and less likely to shatter the edges have more tin content, making them harder and capable of retaining a sharper edge the sulfur decreases the chance of tarnish in the patterns.

It is likely that the chemical composition, along with the almost air-tight scabbard, led to the exceptional state of preservation.

While on loan to Singapore for display as part of a cultural exchange exhibition in 1994, a worker accidentally bumped the sword against the case, resulting in a 7-millimetre (0.28 in) crack on the sword. Since then, China does not allow the sword to be taken out of the country, and in 2013 officially placed the sword onto the list of Chinese cultural relics forbidden to be exhibited abroad. [2]


A Sword unlike any other

Measuring 55.6 cm long and having a weight of 875 grams, the ancient weapon was a true ancient masterpiece manufactured with an alloy of copper and Tin.

The handle of the time-defying sword. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

It was intricately decorated with both blue and turquoise crystals, covered with ancient ideograms.

The sword’s gilt was wrapped in silk moorings, while 11 concentric circles formed the weapons knob.

The exact meaning of the symbols carved on the sword was not immediately clear. However, scholars in traditional Chinese language eventually deciphered the inscriptions and translated their meaning.

The sword is as sharp as it was more than 2,000 years ago. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The sword belonged to King Goujian (496 – 465 BC), and it was referred to as the Goujian Sword.

With not a single trace of rust on it, the scholar studying the sword could not believe the condition the sword was inf after more than 2,000 years.

Its blade was as sharp as day one, almost as if time had not affected the sword.

It is likely that the chemical composition, along with the almost airtight scabbard, led to the exceptional state of preservation.

Its unprecedented quality, its intricate decoration, and rich history made sure to save a spot for this formidable, time-defying weapon in the list of the most exotic and rare swords ever discovered in China.


The Discovery of The Sword of Goujian

In 1965, an archeological excursion was conducted in Hubei specifically in the Zhang River Reservoir. Not only did hey unearth tombs, but they also found an assortment of royal artifacts. They found bronze swords, and ancient burials but the most important discovery was The Sword of Goujian. The sword was dressed in a wooden scabbard and the case was almost airtight. This kept the sword untarnished and the blade, spotlessly smooth. It’s assumed that the sword was never actually used in combat since it lacks scratches and it doesn’t look worn out at all.

The Sword’s Design

The Sword of Goujian isn’t only immaculately pristine but it also has intricate rhombi patterns all along the sides of the blades. There are also chunks of blue crystals and turquoise embedded on the sides. The handle has concentric circles wrapped around it and its materials were mainly forged with copper and tin. In addition to the design, it also has text engraved into it. The script translates to “King of Yue”, which indicates that Yue truly treasured his sword more than anything in the world.


Unique Properties of the Sword of Goujian

Apart from its historic value, many scholars have wondered how the Sword of Goujian managed to remain rust-free in a humid environment for more than 2,000 years, and how it became possible for it to be as sharp today as when it was originally forged. They were also impressed with the delicate decorations carved into the sword, and by the fact that not a single spot of rust can be found on its body today.

In the hopes of replicating the technology used to create the sword, researchers analyzed ancient bronze shards, and they found that the sword is resistant to oxidation due to sulphation on the sword’s surface. Combined with an air-tight scabbard, this allowed the legendary sword to remain in such pristine condition even after more than two millennia.

The swordsmiths of the Wu and Yue regions in Southern China during the Spring and Autumn Period was also determined to have reached a high level of metallurgy to the point that they were able to incorporate rust-proof alloys into their blades. Their skill in sword-making aided ancient weapons of the time like the Sword of Goujian to survive through the ages relatively unblemished.

Since its discovery, the Sword of Goujian is regarded as a state treasure in China, and is deemed as a truly legendary sword that defied the rigors of time. This archeological artifact continues to be revered by the Chinese people, much like the fascination over King Arthur’s mythical Excalibur in the West.

The Sword of Goujian was lent to the National Palace Museum in Taipei where it was on display until 2011, along with various other bronze pieces from the 1965 excavation. Presently this archeological artifact is in the possession and care of the Hubei Provincial Museum.


These swords do not survive as artifacts and their description may be of doubtful historicity.

Asian Edit

  • Kusanagi-no-tsurugi ("Grass-Cutting Sword", time period disputed), one of the three Imperial Regalia of Japan. Allegedly kept at Atsuta Shrine but is not available for public display. Its existence and origins remain doubtful. [1]
  • Thuận Thiên ("Heaven's Will"), the sword of the Lê Lợi, Emperor of Đại Việt from 1428 to 1433.
  • Zulfiqar, a scissor-like double bladed sword belonging to Ali, Caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate from 656 to 661.

European Edit

  • Sword of Attila or the Sword of Mars, the sword of Attila the Hun, ruler of the Huns from 434 to 453. [2]
  • Colada ("Cast [Steel]"), one of two swords owned by El Cid, the other being Tizona, which is preserved.
  • Żuraw or Grus ("Crane"), the sword of Boleslaus III, Duke of Poland from 1107 to 1138. Possibly the same sword as Szczerbiec, which is preserved. [3]
  • Leggbítr or Leggbít ("Legbiter"), a gaddhjalt sword of the Magnus Barefoot, viking and King of Norway from 1093 to 1103. [4]
  • Durandal, purported to be the sword of French military leader Roland. An alleged fragment of Durendal is located in Rocamadour. [5]

These swords are preserved artifacts, or were previously preserved artifacts that are now lost. Their attribution to historical characters may be doubtful.


The Sword of Goujian- The Ancient Chinese double-edged straight sword untarnished after 2700 years

In 1965, archaeologists in China discovered an ancient sword unlike any other. This ancient weapon unique because it is presumed to be around 2,500 years old and, what is more fascinating, it was still shiny and sharp when it was discovered.

This truly unique archaeological artifact, known as the Sword of Goujian, was unearthed in one of more than 50 tombs which were found in Hubei, China. The researchers discovered over 2,000 artifacts from the sites, including this perfectly preserved bronze sword.

Sword of Goujian, Hubei Provincial Museum Photo Credit

Sword of Goujian, Hubei Provincial Museum Photo Credit

According to Ancient Origins, the sword “was discovered in a tomb, in a near air-tight wooden box next to a skeleton. When it was unsheathed, the blade was revealed to be untarnished despite being buried in damp conditions for two millennia. A test conducted by the archaeologists showed that the blade could easily cut a stack of twenty pieces of paper.”

Archaeologists believe that this stunning sword made of copper, tin, and small amounts of iron, is now considered to be a state treasure of China from the Spring and Autumn period (770 to 403 BCE).

People photographing the famous sword Photo Credit

Sword of Goujian, Hubei Provincial Museum Photo Credit

Named after a book, Spring and Autumn Annals attributed to Confucius, the Spring and Autumn period is one of the most turbulent periods in the history of Ancient China. A high number of conflicts between powerful nobles, who fought for supremacy during this period, led to the production of some of the finest bronze high-quality weapons and the Sword of Goujian appears to be among the most outstanding examples.

Measuring 22 inches in length, with a 1.8 inches wide blade and 3.3 inches long handle, the sword is beautifully decorated with turquoise crystals. Eight characters in ancient Chinese script are engraved on the blade near the hilt and translate to: “The Sword belongs to the Goujian, the King of Yue State.”

Deciphering the scripts on the Sword of Goujian Photo Credit

Sword of Goujian, Hubei Provincial Museum Photo Credit

Goujian, the son of King Yunchang of Yue, who reigned over the Yue State (south of today’s Zhejiang Province) in the late Spring and Autumn Period, is considered by many as one of the most famous emperors in the history of China.

As above-mentioned, during the Spring and Autumn period, there was a great number of conflicts. The one between the states of Yue and Wu is said to have left permanent marks on history. King Goujian defeated the Wu army in the first battle, back in 496 BC, but one year later, Yue was defeated, and Goujian and his wife were captured. They were finally released in 490BC, and upon his arrival home, King Goujian started making plans for revenge. It took him ten years to prepare himself and his army to attack the Wu capital. It is said that Goujian used the famous sword to defeat the Wu State in the last major conflict during the Spring and Autumn period and eventually annexed the rival.

Sword of Goujian, Hubei Provincial Museum Photo Credit

The sword is on display at the Hubei Provincial Museum along with many other impressive artifacts.

There is no doubt that this high-quality bronze sword is of great historic significance not just for China, but also for the rest of the world. Moreover, historians and researchers are also fascinated by the fact that the Sword of Goujian is completely untarnished and it still cuts like new.


The Sword Of Goujian, The Weapon That Challenged Time, An Oriental Excalibur

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Despite having been crafted more than 2,000 years ago, the Goujian sword has a sharp blade, as sharp as the day it was crafted, and shows no signs of tarnish. Such resistance to tarnish rarely seen in artifacts so old.

In 1965 an archaeological expedition fifty tombs belonging to the period of the Springs and Autumns (722 to 481 BC) in China’s Hubei Province, located around 7 kilometers from the ruins of Jinan, capital of the former state of Chu.

Sword of Goujian, Hubei Provincial Museum. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

In one of those tombs, next to the skeletal remains of a man, researchers discovered an ancient sword whose structure and sharpness had not been altered despite being crafted more than two thousand years ago.

At the archeological site, experts recovered more than 2,000.

The sword, which is currently housed in the Hubei Provincial Museum, was carefully sheltered in a virtually airtight lacquered wooden box.

The sword measures 55.6 cm long and weighs 875 grams.

The sheet is manufactured with an alloy of copper and tin, decorated with blue and turquoise crystals and covered with millenary ideograms.

The hilt of the sword is wrapped in silk moorings while the knob is formed by 11 concentric circles.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Experts in traditional Chinese language eventually analyzed the inscriptions of the sword and translated their symbols.

The researchers concluded that the sword was forged by King Goujian (496 – 465 BC), and called it the Goujian Sword, the ancient weapon that defied time.

The ancient sword was unlike anything experts had seen.

The weapon did not have a single trace of rust, something that experts found hard to believe.

Incredibly, the sword’s blade, despite the time that had gone by, managed to cut the archaeologist’s finger as he tested the sharpness of the sword, upon finding it.

However, in addition to being a weapon that seemed to have been crafted recently, with unprecedented quality, its extremely intricate decoration features turned it into one of the most unique swords ever discovered in China.

The ancient sword is a treasure of ancient Chinese history.

In fact, some scholars even compare the Goujian Sword to the legendary Excalibur, believed to have been the sword of King Arthur.

The Goujian Sword

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

After careful studies, experts quickly noted that the enigmatic sword belongs to a class of swords known as Jian: straight, double-edged swords, used in China for the last 2,500 years.

These weapons are considered as the oldest swords in China and are closely associated with their rich and plentiful mythology.

In Chinese folklore, this weapon is called the “Knight of the Arms” and is one of the four primary weapons, along with the stick, the spear, and the saber.

Why the sword remains sharp despite the fact that it had been forged more than 2,000 years ago remains a mystery, but experts point to the weapon’s composition, claiming that it remained in such an impeccable state thanks to the metals with which it was made, which allowed it to stay so well preserved.

Studies have revealed that a high proportion of sulfur and copper sulfide have allowed the sword to remain stainless.

The weapon is made according to a millenarian tradition of Chinese blacksmiths.

Its owner, King Goujian was the ruler of the Kingdom of Yue (present-day northern Zhejiang) near the end of the Spring and Autumn period. Goujian’s reign coincided with arguably the last major conflict of the Spring and Autumn period, the struggle between Wu and Yue, wherein he eventually led his state to victory, annexing the rival. As such, King Goujian is sometimes considered the last of the Five Hegemons.

More on the Sword of Goujian from Beyond Science below:


Goujian: The Ancient Chinese Sword that Defied Time - History

Wikimedia Commons The Sword of Goujian.

In 1965, archaeologists working in China’s Hubei province made an amazing discovery. It was a tomb dating back more than 2,000 years. The find was so old that it reached back to an almost mythical time in Chinese history: the Spring and Autumn Period.

The Spring and Autumn Period dates to between 722–479 B.C. It was a time when the country was split between feuding kingdoms. And perhaps because it’s so far in the past, the rival kings have often taken on a legendary quality in Chinese culture. In the popular Chinese imagination, the Spring and Autumn Period wasn’t populated by men, it was filled with epic heroes.

In the tomb in Hubei, archaeologists discovered a sword fit for one of these heroes. The sword rested inside a lacquer and wood sheath laid next to the skeleton of the tomb’s owner. The sheath was in remarkably good condition. Still, no one expected to pull anything out of it but rust.

The sword had, after all, been sitting in a damp tomb for almost 2,500 years. But as the sword was pulled free from its almost air-tight fit in the scabbard, the light still gleamed off of the metal. The surface of the blade had a golden hue crossed by intricate darker patterns. Incredibly, in more than two millennia it had hardly rusted at all.

What was even more amazing was that the blade was still razor sharp. The blade had somehow survived the damp conditions of the tomb to remain as ready for battle as it had been when it was laid into the grave during the Spring and Autumn Period.

Wikimedia Commons The Sword of Goujian.

Immediately, the find raised a number of questions. Who was the man in the tomb to be able to afford such a magnificent sword? And how had Chinese blacksmiths living more than 2,000 years ago managed to create a masterpiece that could weather the centuries untarnished?

As far as the first of these questions went, the sword itself provided some important clues. A number of etchings were still visible in the metal. In an ancient Chinese script, they read, “[The] King of Yue made this sword for his personal use.” Of course, this raised its own questions.

Since the time the sword was made to the time it ended up in the tomb, there had been several Kings of Yue. Which was the inscription referring to?

By analyzing the blade and the tomb, most of the archaeologists reached an agreement that the most likely owner of the sword was King Goujian, who had led his kingdom to victory in one of the last major wars of the period.

But what about the sword itself? What made it so durable?

To answer that question, scientists working on the sword studied the composition of the metal. According to tests, the blade was made mainly of flexible copper. The edge, however, was mainly tin. This allowed the blade to keep a sharp edge for much longer.

The sword’s composition, as well as the air-tight fit with the scabbard, probably gave it a better chance at surviving than most other swords.

However, while the sword had withstood the test of time, it was about to come up against an even more dangerous enemy: human error.

In 1994, the Sword of Goujian was loaned for an expedition in Singapore. There, a workman drawing it from the scabbard accidentally banged it against a hard surface. The force opened up a small crack in the blade that remains to this day.

To avoid similar incidents, it is now against the law to remove the sword from the borders of China. The sword now rests in a Chinese museum, where it will continue its battle against time for at least a few more decades.

Enjoy this look at the Sword Of Goujian? Next, read about the mysteries of theUlfberht swords, the all-powerful viking swords. Then learn about the legend of the real sword in the stone and the person it actually belonged to.


How Smart Were Our Ancestors?

When it comes to topics of history and archaeology, many people assumes that we are generally smarter than our ancestors. Undoubtedly, the technological boom since the Industrial Revolution has transformed human society to an unprecedented level that no one in the past could ever imagine. For instance, we can now drive in the cars that do not need horses, fly in the air that was doomed to be impossible, chat with people on the other side of the world without yearning for the epistle to arrive. Everything that we do now is inconceivable for our ancestors. However, the question remains: Are we truly smarter? In this post, we are going to investigate some of the most mysterious ancient objects that seems to defy what our ancestors were capable of.

“cumque in mea Bibliotheca Sphinx quaedam, Scripturae incognitorum characterum inutiliter occupasset locum,

Ex pictura herbarum, quarum plurimus est in Codice numerus, imaginum diversarum, Astrorum, aliarumque rerum, faciem chymicorum arcanorum referentium, conjicio totum esse medicinalem”

In 1639, in a letter to the Jesuit Athanasius Kircher in Rome, Georgius Barschius, a Prague citizen, wrote the above paragraph describing his possession of an enigmatic book that “was written in an unknown script and was profusely illustrated with pictures of plants, stars, and alchemical secrets” (Voynich). Later known as the Voynich Manuscript, this book contains one of the most encrypted messages in the world. Not only did Kircher fail to translate the book for Barschius, current professional cryptographers also have no clue about what is going on the vellum.

A page from Voynich Manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day. Credit: Yale University

According to Wikipedia, Voynich Manuscript has been carbon-dated to the early 15 th century (1404-1438) and may be composed during the Renaissance era. Almost all pages in the manuscript are illustrated with drawings, a lot of drawings, which have been categorized in the following six sections:

The drawings in this section are mostly herbs. Some of them appear to be realistic depictions, while others do not resemble any known plant on Earth. Credit: voynich.nu

This section contains Sun, Moon, stars, and many other zodiac symbols. Credit: voynich.nu

Filled with circular drawings. Credit: voynich.nu

This is by far the creepiest section in the book. One can see “some possibly anatomical drawings with small human figures populating systems of transporting liquids.” Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Containers with leaves and roots. Credit: voynich.nu

Over 300 short-paragraphs, each noted with a star in the margin. Credit: voynich.nu

At our first glance, Voynich Manuscript seems to serve a medical reference of some sort. However, the perplexing illustrations, along with the uncrackable language of the text, obscure the purpose for which it was intended. Is it a mad man’s diary, or is it a masterpiece of literature? We may never know.

Do you remember back in my first post I talked about the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient computer discovered in Greek? If you thought that was incredible, do you know that ancient people might have also used battery, more than 1000 years before Count Alessandro Volta invented the first electrical battery that we are familiar with today. This ancient battery is called Baghdad Battery. As the name suggests, Baghdad Battery was first discovered in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, by German archaeologist Wilhelm Konig in 1938. This artifact consists of “a ceramic pot, a tube of one metal, and a rod of another,” as shown in the picture below (Wikipedia).

A painting of Baghdad Battery. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

The jar has been speculated to be about 2000 years old. While supporting experiments have demonstrated that it is possible to generate electrical current by a reconstruction of the jar filled with grape juice, critics point out that Baghdad Battery may be just a container for papyrus scrolls.

A scientific illustration of how Baghdad battery works. Credit: unmeseum. org

Therefore, is this really a battery? It is a strong possibility. If it turns out to be true, Count Volta may not need to be worried, because we will probably not erase his name from electrical potentials in our physics textbooks.

Imagine an ancient sword, found in a tomb over 2000 years old, that still has an extremely sharp blade and shows no trace of rust, as if it is defying the passage of time. In 1965, a team of archaeologists discovered one such sword in Hubei, China, along with 2000 other artifacts.

Sword of Goujian at Hubei Provincial Museum. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Named the Sword of Goujian, this legendary sword is as important to the Chinese people as King Arthur’s Excalibur to the west, because of its connection to Goujian, a famous emperor in Chinese history who “reigned over the Yue State during the Spring and Autumn Period (771-476 BC)”. This was a time of wars, chaos, and revolutions. “The Spring and Autumn Period was renowned for military expeditions these conflicts led to the perfecting of weapons to the point that they were incredibly resistant and deadly, taking years to forge and lasting for centuries.” The story of Goujian, in particular, marked an epic comeback that was praised by later generations, and his personal weapon was the Sword of Goujian.

The characters carved on the sword are translated to ” [Belonging to] King Goujian of Yue, made for [his] personal use.” Credit: Wikipedia Commons


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