An archaeological survey in the hills of Jerusalem proved to be fruitful when researchers came across human remains suggesting the earliest evidence of historical blood vengeance.
Conducted under the direction of Boaz Zissu, Professor of Archaeology and Head of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University, the survey exposed a partially intact human skull and palm bones. These remains were examined by Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) anthropologist Dr. Yossi Nagar and Dr. Haim Cohen of the National Center for Forensic Medicine and Tel Aviv University.
Dating to the 10th–11th centuries C.E., the skull and palm bones were identified as having belonged to a male between the ages of 25 and 40.
In an IAA press release, the researchers relay that “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.”
Further, a morphological examination of the skull reveals that there is a strong resemblance to the Bedouin, a group of nomadic peoples who have historically lived in the deserts of the Middle East and, according to the researchers, “apparently had a tradition of blood vengeance.” At the time this ancient man was killed, the researchers say, a Bedouin population from Jordan and northern Arabia was known to have lived in the Jerusalem Hills, around the location of the cave in which the skeletal remains were discovered.
Lastly, the researchers rest their case for historical blood vengeance on a modern tale of revenge. As argued in the press release:
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.
Ruthie Flynn is an intern at the Biblical Archaeology Society.
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