While we don't have all the answers yet, we do know enough to construct several basic alternative hypotheses about the sword. Based on what I've seen, I think the most likely explanation is what I called "Possibilty 3:"
"Possibility 3. All of the brass/bronze swords are modern (i.e., manufactured sometime during the last few hundred years). This is certainly possible. I think, in fact, this is probably the simplest explanation. It's possible, for example, that the swords were all produced as decorative souvenir swords for the Victorian tourist trade in the Mediterranean (i.e., to be sold to wealthy travelers doing a Grand Tour of Roman Italy). Can I prove it yet? No. But I think it's a real possibility."
In other words, I think there are two "generations" of swords floating around out there, neither of which dates to ancient Rome. I think that the "first generation" brass/bronze swords are 19th century pieces that were created to satisfy the souvenir appetites of wealthy northern Europeans visiting the Naples/Pompeii/Herculaneum region during the 1800's. I think the "second generation," mass-produced, modern reproductions made by Design Toscano (currently available at garden centers and home decor shops for $20-$30) were created by copying one of those "first generation" 19th century swords.
If this explanation is correct, it means that the "Roman sword" from Nova Scotia has nothing to do with actual ancient Romans. It's fairly simple to take my explanation, break it down into components, and phrase it as three simple, falsifiable expectations. If any one of these expectations can be shown to be false, then my explanation is not correct. If you can't falsify my explanation, however, it stands as just as plausible (much more plausible, really, if you want to be honest and factor in parsimony) as any explanation involving ancient Romans wrecking their boat in the waters off Nova Scotia. If anyone can falsify my explanation, I'll be happy to go back to the drawing board and re-work it. That's what scientists do!
Here we go.
Expectation 1: There is no authentic Roman sword that matches the design of the Nova Scotia sword.
- Rationale: Based on what I've gleaned online, all signs point to the Naples/Pompeii/Herculaneum region of Italy as being the original source of the "design" of the Hercules-hilted swords that are popping up everywhere. The Design Toscano website, for example, describes their reproduction as an "exclusive museum replica . . . like those found in Pompeii." Pulitzer stated on Facebook that there was a "REAL" sword in a "Famous Italy Museum." I've searched online in just about way I can think of (museum websites, antique dealer websites, image searches, historic books about the Naples Museum, etc.) and I have found nothing but dead ends. I know there are other people out there searching also. I have found no evidence that an original, authentic Roman sword of this design exists in any museum. If these swords are so special, valuable, and highly-prized, why is it so difficult (impossible?) to find an image of the "real" one?
- Can be falsified by: Producing an authentic Roman sword that matches the design of the Nova Scotia sword. Easy-peezy!
Expectation 2: The bronze/brass swords do not pre-date the 1700's.
- Rationale: The Pompeii/Herculaneum region was a popular destination for wealthy Europeans (mostly young men) undertaking a customary educational trip known as the Grand Tour. The figure on the hilt of the sword is Hercules (his beard, lion skin, and club are plainly discernible on the California sword, which is the best preserved example I've seen so far). I think these swords were produced as souvenirs of the region for wealthy travelers. As suggested by someone commenting on my blog, it may be that the figure hilts were all cast from the same mold but the blades were hammered out by hand. This would explain why the hilts match exactly but the blades differ somewhat in size and shape. At least one of the swords (the California sword again) has fullers visible on the portion of the blade nearest the hilt. This may indicate that the swords originally came with scabbards (only the small portion of the blade that was visible was made to look more authentic).
- Can be falsified by: Producing any information that demonstrates any one of these swords pre-dates the 1700's. That could include an archaeological provenience or a depiction of such a sword design in any piece of Roman art. Easy-peezy again, right?
- Rationale: If these bronze/brass swords were souvenirs produced in a single region (Pompeii/Herculaneum) during a relatively limited time period (probably the 1800's), it is logical to expect that they will share some common metallurgical properties. I think they were, literally, all cast from the same mold. Pulitzer's claim that he has authenticated the Nova Scotia sword by comparing it to "another one like it" means nothing if neither sword dates to ancient Rome. I have asked David Kenney if his sword (the Florida sword) was the one that Pulitzer tested for comparison, but have not yet received a response. [Update 12/20/2015: Kenney told me he has never had his sword tested for its metallurgical properties.] So what if all the brass/bronze swords of this design have the same metallurgical properties? Does that mean they are all from ancient Rome? Does that mean they are all of 19th century manufacture? The meaning of that result depends on whether any of them can be proven to have originated at any specific time period (which brings us back to Expectations 1 and 2). My hunch is that all the brass/bronze swords out there (I know of four now) will be of similar composition.
- Can be falsified by: Producing the test results that show that an authentic Roman sword has different metallurgical characteristics than a 19th century souvenir sword. You need to test more than two swords! You need to test the ones you claim are authentic as well as the ones you claim are not (and I'm not talking about the Design Toscano swords, I'm talking about the California sword and the Italian Ebay sword).
Pulitzer seems to be dealing with the proliferation of swords by a combination of misdirection and rationalization. In the misdirection department, he seems to be spending a lot of time arguing against the modern Design Toscano swords (which no-one who is really paying attention, I think, has said is what the Nova Scotia sword is). In the rationalization department, he has now said at least twice that "history" and "legend" state that ten of these ancient Roman Hercules swords were made (making room for the new swords turning up, I guess). I have no idea where the number ten comes from. It would be easy for him to provide a source for that "history," but as far as I know he has not.
I'll include a short lesson for "fringe" theorists out there who don't seem to get what science is and how it actually works. I have phrased my explanation of the "Roman swords" in terms of three expectations that are clearly falsifiable (i.e., evidence can show them to be incorrect). I've constructed my explanation using induction: I've gathered up the facts that I'm aware of and crafted a general explanation that accounts for those facts. I've used that general explanation to derive a series of expectations that will be true if my explanation is correct (this is the deductive side of the inductive-deductive loop that is called "science"). If I can prove my expectations to be false (and I am trying to do that), I can show that my explanation is wrong. Then I can refine my explanation to incorporate the new facts that falsified my hypothesis. Then I can figure out a way to test that new, refined explanation. See how that works? It's not that tough. Instead of "working to verify authenticity" (and threatening legal action and trying as hard as you can to confuse the issues), you might try actually working to test an idea.
Try it sometime! It's fun!