Did the ancient Romans discover America, centuries before Columbus and Leif Erikson? Some people think that may be the case, thanks to the alleged discovery of what appears to be a Roman gladius, the short sword used by Roman legionaries, in the waters off Oak Island in Nova Scotia, according to a Friday story in Yahoo News. To be sure, the conclusion that a ship full of Romans found their way to North America is not proven by the sword, if was actually found around the island. The provenience of the artifact only suggests that it was found at that particular place. Nothing has been found to indicate when and how the sword got there.
Some, however, are convinced.
“J. Hutton Pulitzer, a historic investigator, claims to have evidence of a Roman sword that was discovered submerged near the island, which is believed to be a Roman shipwreck. He says the ancient weapon is the ‘smoking gun’ to his theory.
“’The ceremonial sword came out of that shipwreck,’ he said. ‘It is one incredible Roman artifact.’
“He explains that the discovery came about after a father and son were scalloping off Oak Island. The father kept the sword for decades, and passed it along to his wife when he died. It was then passed along to her daughter, who gave it to her husband, who eventually brought it forward to researchers.
“Pulitzer says the complex metallic properties of the ancient weapon match those of other ancient Roman artifacts.
“’The shipwreck is still there and has not been worked,’ said Pulitzer. ‘We have scanned it, we know exactly where it lays, but it will be a touchy thing for the Nova Scotia government to allow an archaeological team to survey it. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is Roman.’”
The discovery of a shipwreck of a Roman period ship off Oak Island would certainly be the archeological find of the century. Several things have to be considered.
First, no known record has been unearthed from the Roman period that reports about a voyage to a new land to the west. On the other hand, a Roman ship, likely of the sort that the Gallic tribe called the Veneti sailed that could withstand Atlantic storms, could have been blown across the ocean to Oak Island.
Second, the sword could have been brought by anyone in any era and found its way to the waters off Oak Island. It could have still been of Roman origin, lost somewhere else in North America, and had been traded by the Native Americans of the era.
The best way to answer these questions is to begin diving on the ship that Pulitzer referenced and determine whether it is Roman and find whatever other artifacts it might contain.
Oak Island is a place of mystery, the subject of a TV series. The island has been the destination of a number of treasure hunters and explorers over the years.
Update: December 28, 2015: Or does it? Dr. Andy White debunks the Roman sword “find” as a much more recent replica and not evidence of Roman contact with the Americas. His site on the controversy is well worth the visit,