3. The Pit Of Severed Hands
During routine excavation of a palace in the ancient Egyptian city of Avaris, archeologists made a chilling discovery. The skeletons of 16 human hands were dug up, contained in four ceremonial pits. The hands are thought to be around 3600 years old and were described as large, and are therefore assumed to be male, and interestingly they were all right hands – no left hands were found at the site.
So what could explain this gruesome pit of severed hands? The leading theory is that they are trophies of war. After battle, the victorious soldiers would slice of the hands of the enemies they had personally killed. This served several purposes. Firstly, the hands could often be exchanged for bounties of gold when the soldiers returned home as well as proving the prowess of the warrior. Removing just the right hand also made counting victims easier, as one right hand would equal one kill. It was also believed that removing the hand of a foe would deprive them of their power in the afterlife, forever punishing them for daring to take up arms against you.
It is unknown who the unfortunate owners of the hands are, however it is assumed that they were soldiers from somewhere in Egypt or the middle east, and the find marks the first physical evidence of the ancient Egyptian practice of warriors exchanging hands for gold, which had previously only been depicted in writing and art.
The hands could have been taken from slain enemies, as well as captured living prisoners. Such barbaric treatment of prisoners in ancient Egypt is not without precedent. The Narmer Palette is an ancient artifact which depicts scenes of decapitated prisoners, as well as the image of a pharaoh poised to smash the head of a man kneeling before him.
Just when this tradition of collecting hands as trophies began is a mystery, however trophy taking during times of war is a common theme in human history, with everything from scalps and teeth to ears and skulls having been taken as proof of a kill.
Such practices are not confined to ancient history either, during world war two it is estimated that 60% of the bodies of Japanese soldiers killed in the Mariana Islands were sent back to Japan with the skulls missing.