A new study shows that the remains of 17 people, mostly children, found in 2004 during a construction project in Norwich, England, are likely those of medieval Jews massacred because of their religion.
Genetic analysis of the remains indicates that the dead were all Ashkenazi Jews – that is, descendants of Jews who established communities in northern Europe, mainly in what is now Germany and France, during the early medieval period. (Many Ashkenazi later moved from these areas to Eastern Europe, after the eleventh and thirteenth centuries.) Other research indicates that the Norwich dead were killed during an antisemitic massacre in the city in 1190, by Crusaders who vowed to campaign against Muslims in Jerusalem.
The study gave researchers a rare opportunity to analyze Jewish remains – religious laws usually prohibit disturbing Jewish graves – and revealed that a “genetic bottleneck” among Ashkenazi Jews may have occurred centuries earlier than thought.
The findings finally provide a solution to the mystery of who the people were and why they were killed.
“They were not known to be Jews when they were discovered,” Mark Thomas, professor of human evolutionary genetics at University College London, told Live Science. “The only reason we strongly believe they are Jews is because we did the genetic analysis.”
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Thomas is one of the lead authors of a study published August 30 in the journal current biology (Opens in a new tab) which describes the latest research on the remains.
The first bones were found in 2004 during excavations to build a shopping center in Norwich. The discovery led to a full archaeological Investigation of the site, which led to the discovery of a medieval well that contained the mixed remains of at least 17 people.
For a while, the remains were stored by the Norfolk Department of Museums and Antiquities. But after growing suspicions that the victims may have been Jews, based on historical accounts of anti-Semitic pogroms, they were reburied in 2013 in a Jewish cemetery in the suburbs of Norwich, BBC News reported (Opens in a new tab).
Anthropologist Caroline Wilkinson, a professor at Liverpool John Moores University, used the remains to create a reconstruction of two of the victims’ faces.
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Christians massacre Jews
Initial radiocarbon Senior study author Ian Barnes, an evolutionary geneticist at the Natural History Museum in London, told Live Science that the bones were from the 11th or 12th century.
He said that scientists initially believed that the remains came from victims of an epidemic outbreak or mass famine, so the bodies were quickly disposed of.
But the latest research indicates that they all have similar genetic ancestry to Ashkenazi Jews today. Historical research links their crimes with the massacre of Jews in Norwich in 1190 by the Crusaders and described by the historian of the era, a churchman named Ralph de Desito.
Many of those who were rushing to Jerusalem decided first to revolt against the Jews before they invaded the Muslims [a term medieval Christians used for Muslims]Diceto wrote in his book Imagine Historiaroom (Opens in a new tab)And the which was published in about 1200″. Accordingly, on February 6 [in 1190 AD] All Jews found in their homes in Norwich were massacred. Some have taken refuge in the castle.”
Medieval Norwich has been home to a thriving community of Jews since 1137, many of whom lived near the well where the victims were found, BBC News reports. The latter study reported the historical discovery that they were likely descendants of Ashkenazi Jews from Rouen in Normandy who were invited to settle in England by William the Conqueror after 1066, presumably able to obtain their taxes with coins rather than farming. Goods were usually given as taxes in his new kingdom.
Related: A group of Jewish artifacts discovered under a synagogue destroyed by the Nazis during World War II
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Researchers now believe that the seventeen people found at the well were the victims of this outbreak of violence, perpetrated against the Jews who lived in medieval England by Crusaders who vowed to campaign in the Holy Land in what is now Israel.
During the First Crusade, Christian armies occupied Jerusalem in 1099 after defeating the city’s Muslim rulers. Numerous Crusades set out from Europe to the Holy Land in the ensuing years, the last one ending in the 1890s.
Such anti-Semitic pogroms were relatively common in England and other parts of Europe in the medieval period, According to Britannica (Opens in a new tab); The massacre of Jews in Norwich in 1190 was brutal. At least 11 children were among the victims found at the well, and three of the victims were sisters – one aged 5-10, another aged 10-15, and a young adult. Barnes said that the people found in the well appeared to have died before they were thrown into it, as there was no indication that any of them attempted to break their fall.
The researchers were able to perform a complete genome analysis of DNA Of the six individuals found in the well.
Thomas said there is no “genetic test” to determine whether a person is Jewish, but analysis of the genomes of these six people shows that they share the same genetic lineage as many Ashkenazi Jews living today, indicating that they were also Ashkenazi Jews.
The modern Ashkenazi population has a higher than normal incidence of certain genetic disorders, such as Tay-Sachs disease and some genetic diseases crabs, He said; The genetics of four people at the well in Norwich showed the same frequency of such disorders, although there were very few casualties from which such conclusions could be drawn.
He said he believes the cause of these disturbances is a “genetic bottleneck” most likely due to a population decline between about 600 and 800 years ago. But its frequency in casualties means that the genetic bottleneck occurred much earlier, possibly in the later stages of the West. Roman Empire He said from the fifth century.
The findings are important not only because of the historical questions of the remains but also because of the paucity of historical genetic data about the modern Jewish population and the particular genetic disorders they encounter.
“I don’t think there will be a flood of ancient Ashkenazi or Jewish genomes in the future, but I do think that if more data becomes available, it will likely be through a similar route to what we did,” he said.
“That is, they identify human remains where there is no evidence to suggest they are Jewish or anything else, and then someone does the genetic work and gets an indication that they are,” he said.
Originally published on Live Science.