Archaeologists expect to dig up pot shards and building foundations, and even the occasional skeleton. In some cases, what they find exceeds any expectation of an every-once-in-a-while skeleton. In these digs, the remains may be far more than anyone expected and may yield stories of lives that ended in pain and sacrifice. These are some of the most gruesome archaeological finds in modern archaeology, and range from stories of human sacrifice to evidence of battle trophies, from tiny skeletons of newborns to cannibalized bones.
The Pit of Hands
Archaeologists excavating a palace complex in the city of Avaris, Egypt came upon an unexpected and disturbing find. The city of Avaris was, at the time of the palace, under control of the Hyksos, a people most likely from northern Canaan in western Asia. During the course of the excavation, archaeologists found four pits, dug when the palace was in active use. Two of these pits were located quite close to a central throne room, and two others in an outer area of the palace. The two outer pits date to a slightly later time than the pits near the throne rooms. The complex dates to approximately 3,600 years ago.
Within these four pits, archaeologists found disembodied hands. While graves are quite a common find at archaeological sites, disembodied body parts are much less likely. The pit of hands, in particular, dates to the reign of King Khayan. In total, spread amongst four pits, there were 16 total hands. All of these were right hands, and all, on the basis of size, belonged to adult men.
While archaeology often provides unexplained mysteries, this is a mystery that can be solved rather easily. Historians have, for quite some time, known that military leaders frequently returned to their king with the right hands of their enemies. These hands were then presented to the king, or to his representatives. When the soldier presented the hand or hands, he received a gift of gold. This presentation frequently appears in the art of ancient Egypt, but the origin of these 16 hands is unknown. They could have been the hands of Egyptians or of another enemy of the Hyksos in the region.
The hands not only proved one’s own valor in battle, but also served to weaken the enemy by removing his power both in life and in the afterlife.