Rare Piece Of Metal Armor Unearthed At 17th-Century Colonial Fort In Maryland

Published February 28, 2024
Updated March 1, 2024

The metal tasset would have connected to a breastplate and been worn over the thigh as part of a larger piece of body armor.

Metal Tasset

Historic St. Mary’s CommissionThe metal tasset is just the latest incredible discovery at Historic St. Mary’s City.

When colonists came to the New World hundreds of years ago, they brought supplies to help them survive — including weapons of war like metal suits of armor. Now, excavations at a 17th-century colonial fort in Maryland have unearthed one such piece of body armor.

The metal tasset found at Historic St. Mary’s City late last year is a remarkable discovery, but it’s just the latest fascinating object to be unearthed at the fort.

The ‘Rare’ Metal Tasset Found At St. Mary’s

As archaeologists continued their excavations of Historic St. Mary’s City, a project started in 2021, they noticed a piece of metal sticking out of the dirt. The more they dug, the more they unearthed, until they excavated a slab of metal about the size of a cafeteria tray, according to the Washington Post.

“When the first glimpse of the tasset appeared, it looked unremarkable — a small scrap of iron in the dirt,” Travis Parno, director of research and collections at Historic St. Mary’s City, told All That’s Interesting in an email.

Though archaeologists suspected that the chunk of metal could be from a piece of armor, they weren’t 100 percent sure until they ran it through an X-ray. Then, their suspicions were confirmed. Suddenly, the archaeologists could make out the steel bands holding the armor together, as well as its decorative rivets which formed the shapes of three hearts.

Metal Tasset Covered In Soil

Historic St. Mary’s CommissionThe metal tasset looked like a “cafeteria tray” when it was first unearthed, but archeologists suspected that it was part of a piece of armor.

“The X-ray really took our breath away,” Parno told All That’s Interesting. “Seeing the layers of steel, the individual rivets, the hearts(!). It was a good day.”

The metal piece of armor was determined to be a tasset, a piece that connects to the breastplate and hangs over the thighs. Originally, there would have been two — one for each leg.

“This tasset is the second we’ve found at St. Mary’s City (the second was from a circa late-1640s context),” Parno told All That’s Interesting, “suggesting that colonists were actively making decisions about what was and wasn’t useful to be retained in their military accoutrements.”

In the hot, humid environment of Maryland, the colonists likely abandoned the tassets as suffocating and cumbersome. Parno further noted that armor parts like this one are “not particularly common on 17th-century sites.”

But the metal tasset is just the latest discovery at the St. Mary’s site, which has offered up a number of astounding finds in the past three years.

Other Discoveries At The St. Mary’s Site

Almost 400 years ago, colonists from Britain crossed the Atlantic on two ships called the Ark and the Dove. In 1634, they navigated up the St. Mary’s River and erected a fort — the earliest known colonial site in Maryland.

The fort apparently did not last very long. Parno noted that all historic records of it disappear by 1645. But excavations at the site have painted a vivid picture of colonial life nonetheless.

St Marys Fort

Historic St. Mary’s CommissionA depiction of what the 17th-century fort may have once looked like.

Since the archaeological project at Historic St. Mary’s City began in 2021, archaeologists have made a number of remarkable finds, including the outlines of former buildings, a pair of 17th-century scissors, a braid made of metal thread that may have once decorated a coat or a glove, cannonballs and musket shots, glass beads that were perhaps traded with local Indigenous people, and the skeleton of a teenage boy with fractured legs.

Excitingly, excavations at the fort are just beginning. Archaeologists suspect that there could be dozens of buildings yet to be found at the site. And there’s always the tantalizing possibility of unearthing more objects like the metal tasset, or human remains like the teenager.

“We plan to continue excavations at the fort to learn more about life in the first decade of the colony’s existence,” Parno told All That’s Interesting, “with a particular focus on what we can learn about interactions between colonizers and the Indigenous peoples of southern Maryland.”

After reading about the rare 17th-century metal tasset discovered in Maryland, discover the stories behind some of history’s most incredible suits of armor. Or, go inside the complex question of “who were the Pilgrims?”

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.