The earliest known incident of “blood vengeance” may have taken place in the Jerusalem hills in Israel, according to new research from archaeologists at the Israel Antiquities Authority, Bar-Ilan University, and Tel Aviv University.
The team unearthed a human skull and palm bones in a cave close to the better known Avshalom Cave (aka Soreq Cave or the Stalactite Caves), which have since been carbon dated to the 10th and 11th centuries CE. This, they claim, makes it the earliest physical evidence for blood vengeance in the world.
The findings were presented at the 44th Archaeological Congress at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, on Thursday.
The archaeologists say the type of injury – a blow to the head with a sword and a dismembered right hand – is a typical indication of blood vengeance for the region and time period. They also noted two smaller traumas, which suggests the victim had been on the receiving end of further violent episodes before he was brutally murdered.
"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,” the researchers explained in a press release.
What they describe as a “hurried concealment” of the body again fits with their blood vengeance hypothesis.
"No armies passed by there, no village was destroyed," Yossi Nagar, an anthropologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, told Haaretz. "This was inter-personal violence. The most likely hypothesis is that the skull and bones, specifically of the right hand, had been deliberately isolated in this remote cave."
The team also refers to a 20th-century text that describes a story of revenge. In this retelling, the perpetrators offer the family of the victim the skull and right hand in a symbolic gesture to show the deed had been done, which matches the description of this latest find.
Testing suggests the victim was a man aged between 25 and 40 years old. The archeologists believe the skull shows a resemblance to the skulls of the local Bedouin population, which would fit with the demographics of the area 1,000 years ago.