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Severed hands found in Egyptian palace ruins

Archaeologists have made a gruesome discovery fit for a horror thriller: 16 severed hands buried in and around an ancient Egyptian palace. But don't blame the Pharaohs, or their mummies. 

A severed right hand discovered in front of a Hyksos palace at Avaris (modern-day Tell el-Daba) [Credit: Axel Krause/Austrian Archaeological Institute]
A team of archaeologists unearthed the 3600 year-old bones of 16 severed hands from four pits within what is believed to be a royal Hyksos compound. They are all right hands. And they are all large. 

Right hand found in a pit. It's not known who originally started the custom of cutting off right hands in exchange for gold [Credit: Axel Krause/Austrian Archaeological Institute]
Austrian archaeologist Manfred Bietak, who is leading the excavations in the ancient city of Avaris, told the journal Egyptian Archaeology that the severed hands appeared to be the first evidence to support tales in ancient Egyptian writings and art of soldiers cutting off right hands and claiming a bounty of gold. Cutting off the hand was a symbolic means of removing an enemy's strength

In two of the pits 14 right hands were discovered, while two other pits were found holding one right hand each. It's not known whom these hands belonged to, they could have been from Egyptians or people in the Levant [Credit: Axel Krause/Austrian/Archaeological Institute]

"You deprive him of his power eternally," Bietak said. "Our evidence is the earliest evidence and the only physical evidence at all. Each pit represents a ceremony." 

The Tel el-Daba excavation site. The palace complex is at the left of the map [Credit: Austrian Archaeological Institute]
Two of the pits - containing one hand each - are positioned in front of a throne room built in a part of Egypt that was once controlled by an invading people believed to have come from Canaan. The remainder, probably buried at a later date, are in the palace's outer grounds. The archaeological expedition at Tell el-Daba is being conducted by the Austrian Archaeological Institute and the Austrian Academy of Sciences. 

Read the Tell el-Daba 2011 Excavation Report (pdf) here.

Source: [August 11, 2012]

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  1. How large were these hands? And the sources cited aren't exact, please cite properly so that the info is clear

  2. It's more likely the hands were severed as punishment for those attempting to steal Pharaohs treasures, such as the famous Bracelet of Annubis worn by the Scorpian King. Many that posed as lovers to the family members of royalty, in order to obtain the bracelet would have been punished this way, for attempting to steal royal treasure, I should think.


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