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Bodies in UK well killed in mediaeval anti-Semitic massacre: study

Medieval mass burial shows centuries-earlier origin of Ashkenazi genetic bottleneck
In line with the skeletal remains, scientists reconstructed the facial skin of a male adult (left) and a kid (right). Credit: Professor Caroline Wilkinson, Liverpool John Moores University

Seventeen bodies bought at underneath of a mediaeval English well were likely Jews who have been murdered within an anti-Semitic massacre a lot more than 800 years back, scientists have revealed.

The massacre occurred in 1190 AD in the eastern city of Norwich, where just decades prior the seeds have been planted for an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that persists around present,” they said in a fresh study.

The scientists used a range of techniquesincluding analysing the oldest known Jewish genomesto unravel the mystery.

It began when construction industry workers were digging up land for another shopping centre in Norwich in 2004. They discovered the remains of at the very least 17 peoplesix adults and 11 children, including three sistersin the old well.

The bodies were buried at strange angles, some head-first, suggesting the chance of violent death.

Ian Barnes, a geneticist at London’s Natural History Museum, first started looking at the remains while focusing on the BBC documentary series “History Cold Case” in 2011.

“We first thought it much more likely they were the victims of some form of plague, epidemic, famine, something similar to that,” Barnes, among the authors of the analysis published in the journal Current Biology this week, told AFP.

Using , the team narrowed down the date of the deaths to between 1161-1216 AD.

Population bottleneck

DNA analysis of six of the victims found these were predisposed to certain .

Computer simulations then showed that the frequency of the diseases was roughly exactly the same for the Norwich victims for modern Ashkenazi Jews, indicating a .

This might make sure they are the oldest Jewish genomes ever analysed.

“Nobody had analysed Jewish ancient DNA before due to prohibitions on the disturbance of Jewish graves,” Barnes said. “However, we didn’t know this until after doing the .”

In addition, it sheds light on a known historical event once the amount of Ashkenazi Jews suddenly dwindledcalled a population bottleneckwhich causes such genetic variants that occurs.

The bottleneck once was believed to took place up between 500 to 800 years back.

But Mark Thomas, a report co-author and geneticist at University College London, told AFP the brand new research “strongly suggests” that the bottleneck will need to have predated the Norwich victims, meaning it might have occurred more than 100 years sooner than thought.

‘Conspiracy theory persists’

The scientists also found indications a young boy in the well had blues eyes and red hairanti-Semitic stereotypes at that time often involved .

“Once we did increasingly more analysis,” Barnes said, “everything just kept getting ultimately more and much more convincing”.

Their analysis pointed to an individual eventviolence during anti-Semitic riots recorded in Norwich on February 6, 1190 AD.

Barnes said that “anti-Semitic feelings were riding high because plans were set up to conduct the 3rd Crusade”.

And significantly less than 50 years earlier, an area boy have been brutally murdered within an event that cast an extended shadow. The household of the boy, who was simply later dubbed William of Norwich, blamed his murder on local Jews.

It became the initial known version of the anti-Semitic “blood libel” myth, where Jews are falsely accused of killing Christian boys to utilize their blood in rituals.

“This antisemitic persists today, its origins lie within the soil of Norwich,” tweeted Adam Rutherford, a geneticist at University College London.

“The bodies in the well present a distinctive opportunity to measure the roots of the contemporary racism.”

More info: Mark Thomas, Genomes from the medieval mass burial show Ashkenazi-associated hereditary diseases pre-date the 12th century, Current Biology (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.08.036. 0960-9822(22)01355-0

2022 AFP

Citation: Bodies in UK well killed in mediaeval anti-Semitic massacre: study (2022, September 4) retrieved 4 September 2022 from

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