An archaeological first: sixteen severed hands found buried in ancient Egyptian city

It's a grisly find, but an unprecedented one, as well. Archaeologists in Egypt have unearthed 16 severed hands, buried in four pits throughout the ancient city of Avaris. Interestingly, if you're looking for left hands, you're out of luck; every one of the newly discovered meathooks is a righty.

Two of the pits are situated at the front of an ancient throne room thought to have belonged to a Hyksos ruler named Seuserenre Khyan, and contain a hand apiece. "Each pit represents a ceremony," explains archaeologist and Egyptologist Manfred Bietak, who led the excavation. Bietak's team believes the remaining fourteen hands were buried some time later, in two pits located in the palace's outer grounds.

According to Bietak, the 3600-year-old hands are the first physical evidence of a practice referenced in Egyptian writing and art, wherein the right hand of a bested enemy would be severed from the rest of the body. Reasons for dismemberment were manifold. For one thing, it made counting victims easier, and severed hands could also be exchanged for gold. But it also robbed an enemy of his strength; in cutting off an opponent's hand, "you deprive him of his power eternally," Bietak explains.

An archaeological first: sixteen severed hands found buried in ancient Egyptian city

LiveScience's Owen Jarus reports on the history of the symbolic practice:

Cutting off the right hand of an enemy was a practice undertaken by both the Hyksos and the Egyptians.

One account is written on the tomb wall of Ahmose, son of Ibana, an Egyptian fighting in a campaign against the Hyksos. Written about 80 years later than the time the 16 hands were buried, the inscription reads in part:

"Then I fought hand to hand. I brought away a hand. It was reported to the royal herald." For his efforts, the writer was given "the gold of valor" (translation by James Henry Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Volume II, 1905). Later, in a campaign against the Nubians, to the south, Ahmose took three hands and was given "gold in double measure," the inscription suggests.

[Egyptian Archaeology via LiveScience]

Photos by Axel Krause