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A case of blood vengeance from 1,000 years ago

The earliest physical evidence of blood vengeance in medieval times has been discovered in a cave in the Jerusalem hills. Researchers discovered a skull slashed by a sword and palm bones that have been dated to the 10th-11th centuries AD.

The cracks in the skull. Photo by Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority

The bones were identified by Dr. Yossi Nagar, an anthropologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Dr. Haim Cohen, of the National Center for Forensic Medicine and Tel Aviv University, as belonging to a man aged 25-40 years.

According to the researchers, “The skull cap shows signs of two traumatic injuries that eventually healed — evidence of previous violence experienced by the victim — as well as a small cut-mark caused close to the time of death, and a blow by a sword that caused certain and immediate death.”

A morphological examination of the skull shows a great resemblance to the local Bedouin population, which apparently had a tradition of blood vengeance even before the birth of Islam. This is consistent with historical knowledge that in the period under discussion some 1,000 years ago, the Jerusalem hills were inhabited by a Bedouin population that came from Jordan and northern Arabia.

The cave where the skull was found. Photo by Prof. Boaz Zissu, Bar-Ilan University

A text from the beginning of the 20th century tells the story of a case of revenge, during which the murderer presented his family with the skull and right hand of the victim in order to prove the carrying out of a commandment. These are precisely the parts of the body that were discovered in the present case. Since this is a person who was previously involved in violent incidents who then died from the fatal blow, the researchers say it can be concluded that the earliest evidence of blood vengeance has been discovered.

The findings of the discovery were presented tomorrow for this week at the 44th Archaeological Congress, at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

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