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Severed Hands Unveil Ancient Egyptian War Practices in Nile Delta

When we say we’re about to throw hands, this isn’t what we mean.

Cairo Scene

Severed Hands Unveil Ancient Egyptian War Practices in Nile Delta

A team of archaeologists has discovered 12 severed hands beneath a palace courtyard in Tell el-Dab’a on the Nile Delta, which shed light on war practices in ancient Egypt. The palace was built by the Asian Hyksos dynasty between 1640 and 1530 BCE, according to a study by researchers from the German Archaeological Institute, the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Göttingen University Medical School.

Studying these amputated hands or "trophies" up-close for the first time, the  researchers believe they have evidence of a ‘gold of honor’ ceremony, in which the hands of enemy warriors would be publicly cut off after they’ve been conquered. The researchers believe that 11 of the hands had been cleaved from the right arms of adult males, while one appears to have belonged to a woman.

It’s unlikely that the hands were taken from captives, “since this would limit their potential as future slaves.” The victims’ status, whether alive or dead at the time of the amputation, is unclear.

Based on the precision of the cut marks and the fact that the hands were found directly in front of the palace's throne room, the study authors are confident that they "were offered as trophies as part of a public event that took place in the palace".

The findings provide the first direct bioarchaeological evidence for the “gold of honor” ceremony performed in front of the king's palace and contribute significantly to the debate over the reconstruction of this ceremony. The practice of amputating enemies left them eternally handicapped in ancient Egyptian vision of the afterlife. For this reason, tomb inscriptions depicting ancient Egyptian warfare often feature "piles of severed heads, ears, and genitals." The researchers also say it may indicate that women and warfare were not worlds apart…