Eleven-year-old Yang Junxi says he touched the rusty weapon’s tip while washing his hands in the Laozhoulin River, in Gaoyou County, the state news agency Xinhua reports. After pulling it out he took it home, where it quickly became a sensation for curious locals, before the family decided to send the blade to officials for examination. “Some people even offered high prices to buy the sword,” Junxi’s father Jinhai says. “But I felt it would be illegal to sell the relic.”
Archaeologists have dated the 26cm (10in) weapon to either the Shang or Zhou dynasties – the dawn of Chinese civilisation – based on its material, size and shape. Lyu Zhiwei of the Gaoyou Cultural Relics Bureau says that while the sword appears to be of both decorative and practical use, its form suggests it was the status symbol of a civil official rather than a sword for fighting.
The authorities are now planning a major archaeological dig in the river, once part of a system of ancient waterways that developed into today’s Grand Canal. Junxi and his father have been given a reward for handing in the relic.