Gun & blade: divers find arms, but who used them?

The unwrapped handgun on the boat (Just So Scuba)
The unwrapped handgun on the boat (Just So Scuba)
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The handgun was probably used to commit a crime, while the sword reveals signs of clashing with an enemy’s blade some 800 years earlier – but both weapons have been found by scuba divers and turned over to the authorities to dig out the stories behind them. 

And the tale of the sword demonstrates that even expert conservators don’t always get it right.

Divers Christine Lewis and female instructor Sid Stimac found the carefully wrapped gun on a ledge on Rubicon Wall, one of Lake Tahoe‘s deepest areas, on 16 July. They were diving at a depth of around 18m, above a drop-off plunging to 270m on the Californian side of the lake.

Lake Tahoe dive-boat Payah Kun (Just So Scuba)
Lake Tahoe dive-boat Payah Kun (Just So Scuba)

Lewis spotted the package half-buried in sediment and Stimac recognised the shape through the duct-tape in which the sidearm was wrapped. They brought it back to the Payah Kun charter-boat belonging to family dive-business Just So Scuba, where Stimac’s father Captain Tom Loomis cut through the tape.

Inside layers of deteriorating padding lay a still-shiny .22 pistol, minus its magazine. There was also a possible clue, reported the divers – in the form of a hair stuck to the tape. 

Loomis called in the divers’ discovery and a sheriff’s patrol boat arrived to remove the gun for forensic testing, to determine whether it could provide evidence of criminal action. Whoever deposited it in one of the deeper parts of the lake would hardly have expected it to come to rest within the reach of recreational scuba divers.

The hidden sword

(Shlomi Katzin)
The sword as discovered off Carmel beach (Shlomi Katzin)

Diver Shlomi Katzin made his own weapon discovery back in October 2021, as reported at the time on Divernet. He came across a heavily encrusted sword thought to have been uncovered by wave or current action off Carmel beach on Israel’s Mediterranean coast.

Katzin lives in Atlit, which In the 13th century had been a Crusader fortress village called Chateau Pelerin that fell to the Mamluk sultanate in 1291. He reported his find to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), which recovered the sword and sent it for conservation to the laboratories of its national treasures department – until they went and broke it.

A biogenic crust of micro-organisms, shells and sand had helped to protect the sword from disintegration for centuries, but when the experts tried to remove these layers to expose it they managed only to split much of the blade. Rather than risk any further damage, the IAA turned to the governmental Soreq Nuclear Research Centre to use non-invasive X-rays instead.

The recovered sword (IAA)
The recovered sword (IAA)
Attempts to remove the encrustation broke the blade (IAA)
Attempts to remove the encrustation broke the blade (IAA)

Now the results of that radiographic examination have been published, revealing that the sharp edge of the long, straight blade had been slightly bent and the crosspiece knocked out of alignment. The damage is thought likely to have occurred during a battle at sea between the sword’s owner, likely a Crusader knight, and a Muslim warrior. 

The theory is backed up by the fact that the sword was found out of its scabbard, suggesting that it had probably been knocked overboard – possibly along with the European warrior wielding it, although no human remains were evident when the area was surveyed by archaeologists.

The Crusades were undertaken by Christian countries including England and France between the 11th and 13th centuries in a bid to win control of the Holy Land. In 1099 the Crusaders established the Kingdom of Jerusalem and established settlements such as Chateau Pelerin, but centuries of fierce land and naval battles followed.

Shlomi Katzin with his find in 2021 (IAA)
Shlomi Katzin with his find in 2021 (IAA)

The lightweight 88cm by 4.6cm sword, of a design intended for “stabbing and slashing”, had a 12th-century blade and a 13th-century pommel and is easily identifiable as European because Islamic swords of the period were curved. 

“The sword was part of the personal equipment of a knight or warrior,” said the IAA’s Yupa Hoshkar. “This was the main weapon used in face-to-face combat back then… swords required a lot of quality iron, and so were expensive.”

That makes the find a rare one, because the valuable iron would usually be recycled to form new weapons or tools. Only seven complete swords have ever been found in Israel, mostly on the seabed. The new study has been published in the IAA journal Atiqot.

Also on Divernet: Weapons & coins: video expands Rooswijk story, Weapon finds punctuate divers’ SAR training, Divers find bones, boots and weapons, Guns in the gully


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