10 Surprising Facts About Pilgrimage In The Middle Ages

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10 Surprising Facts About Pilgrimage In The Middle Ages



Medieval pilgrims were dedicated to God, and their willingness to undertake extremely long journeys to satisfy their faith seems admirable. But if you delve a little deeper into history you realize that the most interesting facts concerning medieval pilgrims have been omitted from religious textbooks.

10Erotic Pilgrim Badges


Photo credit: medievalists.net

During the Middle Ages, Roman Catholic pilgrims could often be seen wearing special pilgrim badges on their clothes, hats, or around their neck to show others that they had undertaken a sacred journey. Erotic badges were a twist on these religious insignias. They explicitly depicted the male and female genitalia in the most imaginative forms possible. Phalluses with legs and feet and crowned vulvas were common.

Some of these pins further satirized normal pilgrim badges by depicting vulvas fully clad as pilgrims or two vulva pilgrims walking hand in hand. On some of these pins, the vulva pilgrims had phallus insignia pinned on each shoulder.

The exact purpose of these erotic pilgrim badges is unknown. Some theories say that they were sold at carnivals and fairs, while others argue that they indicated the sexual freedom of some of the pilgrims.


9Souvenir Hunts


It took a lot of effort for medieval pilgrims to reach sacred shrines, and as a result, few wanted to go back empty-handed. Fragments of saintly shrines were stolen shamelessly, and floor dust was gathered up and taken home as a highly desirable possession. The blood of martyrs and the water that was used for washing a saint’s corpse were used as miraculous healing substances.

Others took things even further. St. Hugh of Lincoln, for example, was said to have chewed off a piece of Mary Magdalene’s arm on his visit to the French monastery of Fecamp while the guardian monks hopped around in the background, wailing “for shame, for shame.”

8Vicarious Pilgrimage


Photo credit: Wikimedia

Vicarious pilgrimages, which became popular in the 12th century, were pilgrimages that were made on behalf of a certain person who could not go on himself. The wife of a Norwich baker, for example, could not walk due toswellings on her feet, and thus her husband visited the shrine of St. William on her behalf.

Those who could go themselves but were prevented by their laziness had to wait until the 15th century to take advantage such pilgrimages. By then, the idea of a vicarious pilgrimage was accepted, but it never became completely respectable.

Isabel of Bavaria took advantage of the vicarious pilgrimage with great zeal. In fact, she was so worried about her health that she sent numerous pilgrims, as well as members of her family, to sacred shrines all over France. One pilgrim, for example, was sent to Notre-Dame du Blanc-Mesnil with a 15-pound candle and the instructions to pray there for 15 days, burning a pound of wax each day.


7Pilgrimage As Punishment


Photo credit: Marc Ryckaert

From the 13th century onward, a judicial sentence for convicted criminals often came in the form of a forced pilgrimage.

By the 14th century, a judicial pilgrimage was an extremely common punishment in countries such as France and Italy. Between 1350 and 1360, the port city of Ghent in northwest Belgium, for example, sentenced 1,367 convicted criminals to go on a pilgrimage to 133 different holy sites.

If the criminal had committed murder, it was common to hang the murder weapon around the convict’s neck for the duration of the pilgrimage. Those convicted of heresy often had to wear two yellow crosses on their front and back.

The criminals were also expected to collect signatures at all the shrines visited as proof that they had been there. Sometimes the convict was also forced to undertake the pilgrimage barefoot or naked.

6Pilgrimage From Home


Photo credit: Wikimedia

Those who were in some way restricted or too poor to go on a pilgrimage could always travel on a pilgrimage in their imagination. In fact, in 15th-century northern Europe, a variety of spiritual pilgrimage texts became widely available to the public.

One such spiritual pilgrimage guide was produced in Oxford in the 1420s and bestowed upon the sedentary devotees the benefits of a Roman Jubilee pilgrimage. The text instructed the spiritual pilgrim to meditate on each phase of the physical journey to Rome, saying 10 Pater Nosters a day, one for each league he would have normally walked if he had undertaken the journey. After the spiritual pilgrim had “reached” the city, he was advised to dedicate seven days to meditation on the seven principle churches of Rome.

Finally, after spending roughly 15 weeks on this spiritual pilgrimage, the pilgrim was instructed to ‘’pray himself back home.”

5Earliest Tourist Package Tours


Photo credit: Ricardo Liberato

By the 13th century, overland pilgrimage routes to the Christian Holy Land became increasingly dangerous, and as a consequence, few Christians were brave enough to make these overland journeys.

Luckily for them, Venetian merchants, who controlled the Mediterranean Sea lanes and had great relations with Middle Eastern authorities, offered all-inclusive return-trip tours to the Holy Land.

These pilgrimage package tours included guided tours around the sacred sites and sometimes even included sightseeing stops in Egypt. In fact, these early pilgrim tours are generally considered a precursor to modern tourist package tours.


4Sacred Tattoos


Photo credit: William Rafti

During the Middle Ages, it was common practice for pilgrims to get tattoos on their arms in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The tattoos were usually of crosses and served both as evidence of the pilgrim’s sacred journey and as a sign of their commitment to God.

The sacred tattoos were also often vital in ensuring a pilgrim’s safe return back home. If captured by bandits, the pilgrims only had to show them their tattoos. Once recognized as Christian pilgrims, they paid a fee and were immediately set free.

In a similar way, medieval Christian crusaders had crosses tattooed on their bodies so that if they died far from home, they would be given a Christian burial.

3Go A Pilgrim, Return A Whore


Pilgrimage was not always as saintly and God-focused as it should have been. Some pilgrims, finally free from their monotonous everyday lives, hurried to take advantage of their new, short-term freedom. As a result, many church buildings along pilgrimage routes depicted exhibitionist figures of males and females whose sole purpose was to warn pilgrims of the dangers of lust.

The genitalia of these figures were often enlarged as a way of reminding the faithful that sinners were punished in hell through the bodily organs through which they had sinned.

These church warnings were not always heeded, however. In fact, as early as the eighth, century St. Boniface complained that some female pilgrims traveling to Rome fell into prostitution on their way through France and northern Italy and a popular medieval proverb warned “Go a pilgrim, return a whore.”



Photo credit: Lorenzo Lotto

It was believed that in its treasury, the church held extra merits because Jesus and the saints had done so many good deeds. These extra merits, or indulgences, could be given to those who underwent pilgrimages to certain destinations.

Some people went a little crazy in their hunt for indulgences. In the 12th century, Gerald of Wales undertook a pilgrimage to Rome and visited as many sacred sites as possible to acquire as many indulgences as he could. After calculating that he had collected 92 years of indulgences, he undertook another religious act and thus rounded his indulgences to 100 years.

Indulgences often became a source of competition between the different sacred places. As the seeking of indulgences became more and more popular, a need for a list of shrines and the indulgences attached to each grew.

As a consequence, the beginning of the 14th century saw the development of “Libri Indulgentiarum.” The most famous of these was the “Stacyons of Rome,” which has been described as a medieval advertisement boasting of the value of pilgrimage to Rome as opposed to Jerusalem or Santiago de Compostela.

1Women Pilgrims


Photo credit: Armand Gautier

The Middle Ages saw many women undertaking pilgrimages to saintly shrines. However, many obstacles stood in their way, and not every woman who wished to go on a sacred journey was allowed to do so.

Before even thinking about setting out on a pilgrimage, the woman had to get permission from several people, especially her legal guardians: a father for unmarried women or a husband for those who were married.

Nuns too were not free to go on pilgrimages whenever they pleased for they had to have the permission of their abbesses. These permissions were rarely granted—a pilgrimage was seen as frivolous and improper activity for a woman to undertake, and it was believed that the fickle tastes of women would somehow diminish the experience for true pilgrims.

Furthermore, chronicles from the 12th century reveal that no woman was allowed into sanctuaries as a rule, and those who somehow managed to sneak in were admonished severely and sometimes even punished by divine will.

Laura is a student from Ireland in love with books, writing, coffee, and cats.

10 Mysterious Ancient Tattoos

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10 Mysterious Ancient Tattoos



Tattoos are one of the most ancient forms of body art. But because tattoos exist on flesh and are quick to rot, only rare examples have survived from antiquity. For millennia, these permanent body markings are used as social identifiers, religious icons, and cosmetic enhancements.

10Priestess Of Hathor


While exploring the ancient Nile village of Deir el-Medina, archaeologists discovered an intricately tattooed, 3000-year-old mummy. The find came from an area that once housed workers who built the Valley of the Kings. Advanced imaging technology revealed 30 separate inkings across the mummy’s back, neck, arms, and shoulder. Designs include eyes, snakes, lotus blossoms, and cows. Many of the markings are linked with the goddess Hathor, leading to her nickname: Priestess of Hathor.

The Priestess of Hathor’s tattoos are the oldest representative image tattoos in Egypt. Earlier Egyptian body marking are in the Nubian style—dots and lines formed into abstract geometric designs. Their Priestess’s designs differ. They are clear and easily identifiable depictions of real-world objects. Divine imagery in prominent positions on her body indicates they were most likely for religious cult activity.


9Filipino Fire Mummies


Photo credit: wnf.org

Mummies from the caves around Kabayan, Philippines, have been preserved through fire. Archaeologists believe the mummies belong to the Ibaloi tribe and date to 1200–1500. Smoking corpses over open fires died out around Spanish colonization. Experts suspect the smoke treatment was reserved for tribal leaders.

Many fire mummies are covered with tattoos of geometric designs and omen animals like lizards, snakes, scorpions, and centipedes. Some feature circular tattoos around the wrists, which may represent solar discs. Others bear zig-zag patterns. Apo Annu is one of the most intriguing of the fire mummies. In the early 1900s, his intricately tattooed remains were stolen. The locals believed Apo Annu’s absence caused natural disasters like famine, earthquakes, drought, and disease. Eventually, the fire mummy was returned and reburied to reestablish balance.

8Preserved Polish Prison Ink


Photo credit: Design boom

In 19th-century Poland, authorities used to cut tattoos out of deceased convicts and catalog them. The process started to aid in identifying gang affiliations. The Department of Forensic Medicine at Jagiellonian University in Krakow now houses the grisly collection: 60 specimens, carefully preserved in glass jars filled with formaldehyde. Tattoos were strictly forbidden in Polish prisons. However, the inmates got around this through a variety of inventive techniques.

Razor blades, glass, and wires, were used to pierce the skin. Ink was made with charcoal, burned rubber, cork, and pencil lead, which was mixed withwater, urine, soap, or fat. The tattoos have a complex level of symbolism—the exact nature of which is known only to initiates within this bygone criminal underworld. These markings reveal profession, background, life experience, and even sexual orientation. Religious imagery and explicit scenes are the most common motifs in 19th-century Polish prison tattoos.


7Intimate Secret

In 2014, archaeologists discovered the tattoo of a man’s name on the inner thigh of a 1,300-year-old Sudanese mummy. The intimate inking spells out “Michael” in Greek. Experts speculate that this was a protective symbol of St. Michael the Archangel—not a lover. The symbol of St. Michael has been discovered before on stone tablets and churches but never on flesh. It is unknown whether the tattoo was intended to be seen or to remain a secret.

Researchers used CAT scans and infrared technology to peek under the mummy’s wrappings. She is believed to have been between 20 and 35. Her remains were bundled in linen and woolen cloth. Unlike traditional Egyptian mummies, she was preserved naturally in the dry climate. The nature of her inner thigh tattoo indicates that she was part of a Christian community along the Nile.

6Qilakitsoq Mummies


Photo credit: Toke Brødsgaard

In 1972, hunters discovered a group of mummies near Greenland’s abandoned Inuit settlement of Qilakitsoq. Dating to the Thule culture of the mid-15th century, the group contained a baby, a two-year-old boy, and six women. The cold, dry climate naturally preserved the remains, which were stacked on top of each other with layers of animal fur. The two-year-old suffered from Down’s syndrome, and one of the older women was deaf, blind, and plagued by a malignant tumor. The baby was buried alive. The fate of the other mummies remains a mystery.

Tattoos were once commonplace for Inuit women and often signified tribal affiliation. Infrared analysis revealed that five out of the six Qilakitsoq women had tattoos on their faces. Black lines with arched eyebrows were drawn on their foreheads. Dotted tattoos also appeared on two of the women. All five had tattoos on their cheeks and two had tattooed chins.

5Therapeutic Tattoos


Tattoos on a 1,000-year-old Andean mummy may represent acupuncture points. Archaeologists discovered the preserved remains unwrapped in the sands around Chiribaya Alta in Southern Peru. Researchers use molecular cytogenic technology to determine it was female and the most advanced imaging to study her tattoos. The mummy bore two distinctive types of tattoos—decorative ones with animal designs and some in a symbolic cipher. The abstract tattoos may have had a ritual, protective, or even healing function.

Soot-based ink was used to make images of birds, monkeys, and reptiles. Four of her fingers are tattooed with rings. The marks that are of the most interest to researchers are 12 circular forms on her neck. Some believe these correspond to therapeutic points exploiting in acupuncture for pain relief. A 1999 study of Otzi the Ice Man’s tattoos suggested that his ancient ink might also have served a similar healing purpose.




Photo credit: ancient-origins.net

In Maori culture, the collective term for preserved, tattooed heads is “mokomokai.” Making these grisly war trophies is time consuming. First, the head is severed and then filled with flax fiber and gum. Next, it is boiled, before smoking over a fire. Once the head is dried in the Sun for a few days, it is finished with a shark oil rub.

Mokomaki are covered in moko—ancient Maori tattoos. Generally, only men wore these high-status markings. The art is produced by carving flesh with a chisel-like tool known as an “uhi” and filling in the slices with ink. These were extremely painful and served as a mark of courage and adulthood. One of the most famous mokomai is Toi Moko, which along with 800 similar heads was traded to the British for guns and goods. Toi Moko made it to the Guernsey Museum before returning to New Zealand.

3Razzouk Ink


Photo credit: Anna Felicity Friedma

Jerusalem’s Razzouk family has tattooed Christian Pilgrims for 700 years, and they are still open for business. Their tattoo shop opened in 14th-century Egypt. 300 years later, the Razzouk’s relocated to Jerusalem due to the high demand for holy tattoos. Originally, they applied their sacred designs with a long wooden stick with thick needles attached to it. The process was painful, slow, and much less precise than modern tattoos. Many of their designs come from stencils—some of which are 500 years old.

Tattoos have long served as a way to commemorate a pilgrimage. It was a way of proving to the world what you had experienced. Pilgrims tend to prefer tradition designs. Young Christians in Jerusalem gravitate toward modern versions of iconography with bold colors. Tattoos are extremely common among Christians where they are a minority. In Egypt, Coptic Christians often tattoo their children with small crosses.

2Solomon Islands


Photo credit: ancient-origins.net

Archaeologists in the Solomon Islands have unearthed obsidian tools used for tattooing 3,000 years ago. The black, glass-like volcanic rock contained traces of charcoal, ochre, blood, and fat. What’s more, researchers were able to replicate tattoos on pigskin using these simple tools. An alternative theory proposes the obsidian tools were used for bloodletting. However, this does not explain the presence of pigments like ochre and charcoal.

The Solomon Islands are a vast chain that cuts through both the Melanesian and Polynesian areas of tattoo influence. The islands have at least three different traditional tattooing techniques. Sometimes, ink was applied into cuts. Other times, the ink was applied first and sliced into the skin. In other cases, pigment was applied at the end of a sharp tool. Thorns, fish spines, and bones could all be used to puncture the skin. Obsidian, quartz, and bamboo were used to cut or make incisions.

1Pazyryk Mummies


In 1993, archaeologists unearthed an Iron Age grave the Altai Mountains of Siberia. The burial contained mummified Pazyryk tribesmen. The Pazyryk were nomadic herders who used tattoos as a social identifier. The mummies and their markings were in a remarkable state of preservation. Water seeped into the subterranean chamber and froze into a solid block of ice. Along with the mummies, researchers discovered Chinese silk, carpets, and a sack of cannabis in the graves.

One of the mummies is believed to be a chief. Aged around 50, the man is covered with intricate designs of intertwined beasts. Along with familiar creatures, there are unidentified carnivores and monsters. The man also has a series of circular tattoos on his neck. These may have had therapeutic purpose. A female mummy dubbed “Princess Ukok” is also cloaked in similar tattoos. Her head is shaved, but she wears a wig and headdress.

Abraham Rinquist is the executive director of the Winooski, Vermont, branch of the Helen Hartness Flanders Folklore Society. He is the coauthor of Codex Exotica and Song-Catcher: The Adventures of Blackwater Jukebox.

10 Brutal Historical Weapons of War

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10 Brutal Historical Weapons of War

KUTUUP JULY 11, 2010


Today’s weapons of war are increasingly geared towards felling an enemy in as humane a way as possible, with high velocity firearms ensuring a quick death. Soldiers are also trained to kill enemies quickly and (well, almost) painlessly, with bladed side-arms. However, in times gone by, humane weapons were the last thing warriors were looking to wield. Pain and maximum suffering were the order of the day, and the popularity of a weapon could be measured by its brutality. For good reason, too! A weapon that scared the crap out of your enemy was a useful tool, as well as an empowering asset.

Let’s take a look at some of the more fearsome, and downright nasty, weapons employed by warriors of times gone by. In no particular order (I wouldn’t fancy encountering ANY of these!):



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A knobkerrie refers to any blunt impact implement located at the end of a shaft weapon or staff. Usually a small ball of wood or metal, a knobkerrie would be used by being slammed into the nose or groin at close range. This type of weapon has been used in many different incarnations over time, but was originally used in Africa by tribal groups as a means of self defense. This weapon is still used today and can be found on the end of most hunting knives, in the form of a small ball or point of metal at the end of the handle.

Notable appearance: The Knobkerrie is employed by numerous Zulu warriors in the movie “Zulu”.




Most famously used in ninja movies, and the like, a caltrop (or caltrops) are objects with multiple sharp points, designed to be dropped when under pursuit, in order to either catch your pursuer off guard and cause nasty injury to the feet, or to force approaching enemies in to following a certain path as a trap. The primary idea behind these nasty implements is to be used as a trap which will render your foes immobile, or at least in great pain!

Notable appearance: Caltrops appear in a number of James Bond movies as a feature of Bond’s car, dropped from the vehicle to puncture the tires of pursuers.


Morning Star

Fomfr Morning Star

The mace’s nastier cousin, the morning star, consists of a solid wooden or metal shaft atop which sits (in most designs) a large metal ball adorned with a number of spikes or blades. The morning star was used by infantry and horsemen, alike, in medieval times. The primary method of attack was to simply swing the weapon at your foe. The most common target was, logically, the face or head, although the blow could be directed at the legs or knees in order to disable a foe. Morning stars have returned in different forms since medieval times, and are often confused with the mace, the difference being that a mace has no spikes, instead favoring metal studs. Another form of this weapon is the well-known flail, which incorporates a chain between the shaft and spiked ball, allowing the weapon to be swung harder with less exertion.

Notable appearance: The Cave Troll appearing in The Lord of the Rings books and movies wields a huge Morning Star as his weapon of choice.



Two Piece Chakram Apart

Often misidentified as a Glaive, which is actually a pole weapon similar to a pike, a Chakram is akin to a large throwing star (or shuriken). Also known as a war quoit, the weapon is of Indian origin and was usually a large bladed metal disk. Chakrams were used both for throwing, like a Frisbee, or in melee combat, where slashing was the usual method of attack. Another form of the Chakram was the Chakkar, another bladed throwing weapon in the shape of a hoop rather than a disk. Chakkars were used by Sikh warriors, again, as both a throwing and melee weapon. The weapons have a frightening range of up to 100 meters, if well manufactured.

Notable appearance: Xena, in the Xena: Warrior Princess series often uses a Chakram as a throwing weapon.



Tool Pics 057

Similar to a modern sledgehammer, the Maul is a nasty blunt force weapon, initially appearing in use by French citizens. Mauls were not originally used particularly as a weapon, rather as tools, but in time they have been employed by various factions for combat purposes. There is no particular method for using a Maul, aside from striking almost anywhere on the body for severe damage. Common target areas would be (as is common with blunt force weapons) the head, arms or legs. A single blow from a Maul is sufficient to shatter bones and cave in skulls, even when a helmet is worn. The length of the handle allowed for the Maul to be wielded in two hands. A common tactic was to break the legs of the victim with a stout blow to the knees or shins, then finish the poor guy off with an over-head smash to the skull.

Notable appearance: Leatherface in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie, uses a sledgehammer as a Maul to incapacitate one unlucky victim.


War Scythe

Weapon Scythe

Adapted from the common farming tool, war scythes were altered so that the blade pointed straight from the top of the shaft. War scythes were used as both a slashing and a stabbing weapon, their weight and aerodynamic shape making them devastating. Capable of cutting through a metal helmet, the weapon is thought to have originated from use as an improvised weapon by peasants, which was then adapted for military use. Arguably worse than the military form, the version wielded by peasants in revolts would often be blunt from use in farming, meaning the victim was likely to survive numerous slashes before dying.

Notable appearance: The grim reaper, death himself, is usually depicted wielding a scythe type weapon.


Dragon Beard Hook

Dragon Beard Hook

This nasty piece of kit was employed by Chinese warriors as a means of ensnaring and immobilizing a victim. The weapon consists of a metal head bearing two or more serrated hooks, attached to a length of rope or chain. Used by “casting” out the head, the aim was to pierce, or snag, a part of the foes body with one of the hooks, and then reel them in for the kill by pulling on the rope. This often resulted in tearing the victim’s body as they struggled to escape. Arterial damage was common and the victim was often killed by the hook itself, before they could be reeled in. The Dragon Beard Hook originates from the Song Dynasty.

Notable appearance: The Mortal Kombat character, Scorpion, uses a weapon similar to a Dragon Beard Hook to drag distant opponents into close range.




Originating as a tool for threshing crops, nunchaku are an Okinawan weapon consisting of two lengths of wood, or sometimes metal, joined by a chain. The weapon is used by holding onto one of the wooden arms and swinging the other extremely quickly at the victim. The target area would usually be the face or arms, with the aim of breaking bones or causing blunt trauma. Nunchaku come in various flavors, ranging from the basic wooden or metal arms, to arms with attached blades or razors for extra damage. Nunchaku use is considered an art, and a skilled wielder can operate the weapon at such speed, passing from hand to hand, that they could potentially strike a victim a number of times per second. A trained user is also able to “bluff” swings, making it very difficult to defend against, since it is nearly impossible to predict where the blow will come from. Nunchaku can also be used in pairs, with one pair in each hand.

Notable appearance: Almost any martial arts movie!




This weapon lies somewhere between a polearm and an axe (a family of weapons known as poleaxes), consisting of a long pole with a wide axe head attached along the side and tip of the shaft. The Bardiche is of Eastern European and Russian origin. Used as a slashing or cleaving weapon, the weapon was wielded in two hands and swung both horizontally and vertically. Bardiches were often wielded alongside a firearm for use in the event of close-quarters encounters, although weapons of this style were in use long before the arrival of firearms. The power of the weapon came from the weight of the blade, which was usually over 2 feet wide. The method of attack would usually consist of cleaving at the limbs or torso of the foe.

Notable appearance: Bardiche variants are often seen in fantasy and manga stories, often in the form of a giant axe with a short handle running behind the blade.




The only firearm to make this list, the Blunderbuss was an early form of shotgun, using powder and shot. The weapon was muzzle loaded and is identified by the distinctive flared muzzle. The nasty part of the Blunderbuss was actually a flaw in the design, the flared muzzle caused the shot to spread quite widely and reduced the muzzle velocity, meaning that shots outside of very close quarters resulted only in shrapnel wounds rather than death. A blunderbuss could, in theory, be loaded with any kind of shrapnel or shot, small stones or scraps of metal were used as ammunition at times. The gun was used by armies of various nationalities, although the weapon originates from Europe. A smaller, one handed version of the Blunderbuss, called a Dragon, was also used. Wounds sustained from a close range hit from a Blunderbuss would be brutal, potentially blowing away whole chunks of the body.

Notable appearance: Jack Sparrow, of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, wields a handgun similar to a Dragon, while at least one member of the undead pirate crew seen in the first movie uses a Blunderbuss type firearm.

10 Archaeological Discoveries Consistent With Biblical Passages

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10 Archaeological Discoveries Consistent With Biblical Passages




Some approaches to Biblical archaeology can be controversial: Rather than analyzing material evidence in an objective way, many archaeologists involved in this field have been accused of “forcing” the evidence to fit predetermined notions derived from a desire to “confirm” the veracity of the Bible. Archaeologists cannot “prove” that the Bible is “true;” all they can do is to uncover and interpret materials the best they can. Many of the discoveries they make seem to be consistent with Biblical accounts.

10The Biblical Flood


Photo credit: Leon Comerre

Many scholars have argued that the source of Biblical Flood story was most likely a great and destructive flood that affected the region of Mesopotamia. If so, then the proportions of such a flood were enhanced by the imagination of the authors of the story.

During the 1928–1929 excavation season in southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), British archaeologist Leonard Woolley uncovered 3 meters (10 ft) of waterborne sediment in the ancient city of Ur. Woolley interpreted this as evidence of the biblical flood. The layer was dated to 4000 to 3500 BC. Similar evidence has been found at many other sites in the region, but not all of them are consistent with the dates of the layer found by Woolley.

Flooding in the Mesopotamian river basin was a frequent phenomenon. Although there is no archaeological evidence in favor of a flood of planetary proportions, there is general support for a catastrophic flood (or several) in Mesopotamia during the dawn of history. These floods could well be the inspiration for the many flood stories in the Mesopotamian tradition and also the Biblical Flood.


9Abraham’s Genealogy


Photo credit: Jozsef Molnar

Abraham’s story begins with him and his family living in the Mesopotamian city of Ur, where he begins his journey to Canaan. In the second half of Genesis 11, we have a detailed account of Abraham’s family tree, mentioning dozens of names. During excavations at Mari, an ancient city on the Euphrates in present-day Syria, an impressive royal palace was discovered, which yielded thousands of inscribed tablets that were once part of a proud royal archive.

Modern estimations on Abraham’s chronology fall somewhere between 2000 and 1500 BC: The archive found at Mari was in use from around 2300 to 1760 BC, and the names on these tablets show that the names in Abraham’s genealogy were in use in this area during this time. This find does not confirm the validity of Abraham’s family tree, but it suggests that the story might not have been a purely fictional creation.

8Abraham’s Handmaiden


Photo credit: Jules Richomme

Genesis 16 tells us that Abraham’s wife, Sarai, could not bear children. She agreed that Abraham could take a second wife to beget a son: their Egyptian handmaiden named Hagar. This practice is attested to in many texts found by archaeologists. The Alalakh Texts (18th century BC) and even the Code of Hammurabi all agree that procuring a son in this way was an accepted custom.

The Nuzi Tablets are a group of texts particularly relevant to this episode. Dated to the second half of the 15th century BC, they were retrieved from an ancient Hurrian site in present-day Iraq. These texts mention that a sterile wife could provide a slave girl to her husband in order to beget a son. In ancient times, infertility was almost always attributed to sterile women; ancient sources rarely blame the man when it comes to this issue.


7City Of Sodom


Photo via Nairaland Forum

Genesis 19 describes the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah as a result of the deviant behavior and sins of their inhabitants. A group of archaeologists believes they’ve uncovered the ruins of the ancient city of Sodom, located in Tall el Hammam, east of the Jordan river. The dates of the site are consistent with the early historical period of the Bible. The city is estimated to have been occupied between 3500 and 1540 BC.

The site is considerably larger compared to other sites in the region. Its location isn’t the only reason why it seems to be the ancient city of Sodom. Archaeologists believe that the city was abandoned suddenly toward the end of the Middle Bronze Age, which fits the Biblical picture of Sodom being suddenly destroyed.

6Ketef Hinnom Amulets


Photo credit: Bachrach44

The Ketef Hinnom site is composed of a series of rock-hewn burial chambers, located southwest of Jerusalem’s Old City, on the road to Bethlehem. In 1979, archaeologists made an important discovery: two silver plates rolled together with text written on them in Old Hebrew. These items are believed to have been used as amulets and were dated to the seventh century BC.

The texts on these amulets are a passage of the Hebrew Bible, Numbers 6: 24-26. This is an important passage of the Book of Numbers known as the Priestly Benediction:

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace.

The inscriptions on the Ketef Hinnom Amulets, now displayed at the Israel Museum, are considered the oldest Biblical text yet discovered.

5Deir ‘Alla Inscription


Photo credit: Jona Lendering

During the Exodus, the Israelites passed through the Sinai Peninsula into Transjordania and came in touch with the kingdoms of Edom and Moab. In Numbers 22, there is an account where the king of Moab, distressed by the presence of the Israelites, requests a prophet named Balaam to curse the people of Israel.

About 8 kilometers (5 mi) from the Jordan river, a late sanctuary dated to the Bronze Age was excavated. This site is known as Deir ‘Alla. An ancient Aramaic inscription has been retrieved from the site, containing the prophetic curse of Balaam.

The inscription describes a divine vision anticipating the destruction and punishment of the “Malevolent Gods.” It also employs the expression “Shaddai gods,” which resembles the Biblical El Shaddai, “God Almighty.” The title mentioned in the text reads, “The misfortunes of the Book of Balaam, son of Beor.”


4Samaritan Captivity

Samaria fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC. Assyrian records claim that King Sargon II captured 27,290 prisoners and took them into exile to different locations, including Halah and Habor and other places under Assyrian control.

This account is confirmed in 2 Kings 17.6 and further supported by material evidence. At these Mesopotamian sites, archaeologists have unearthed examples of ostraca (pottery fragments with writing on their surface) listing Israelite names.

3Assyrian Invasion


In 701 BC, the Assyrian king Sennacherib invaded Judah. Many cities fell to the invading army, including the southern city of Lachish mentioned in 2 Kings 18.13-17. After a siege, the city was captured by the Assyrians, and several archaeological finds are consistent with this event.

At the site of Lachish, archaeologists have uncovered arrowheads, a siege ramp, a counter-ramp, the crest of a helmet, and a chain used by the defenders against the siege ram. At the site of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh (northern Iraq), a relief sculpture depicting the capture of Lachishwas retrieved from the palace of Sennacherib and is currently displayed in the British Museum.

2End Of The Babylonian Exile


Photo credit: Prioryman

When the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great captured Babylon in 539 BC, he ordered the liberation of the Jews and other groups who remained in captivity. This historical episode is described in the Book of Ezra, and there are other historical documents consistent with Cyrus’s policy to allow many inhabitants of Babylon to return to their homeland.

One of the most famous of these documents is the Cyrus Cylinder, a small clay cylinder written in cuneiform script dated to the conquest of Cyrus, currently displayed at the British Museum. One of its passages reads:

I returned the images of the gods, who had resided there, to their places and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants andreturned to them their dwellings.

Other documents retrieved by archaeologists also contain many Jewish names from those families who chose to remain in Mesopotamia after they were set free. The Murashu texts, for example, list roughly 100 Jewish names who prospered in Mesopotamia shortly after the time of Cyrus.

1Herod’s Palace


Photo via The Independent

Traces of the ambitious building projects driven by Herod the Great have been found all over Palestine. The suspected remains of King Herod’s palace have been discovered during the excavation of an abandoned building in Jerusalem’s Old City, not far from the Tower of David Museum.

The significance of this find is that some archaeologists believe this was the setting of one of the most important chapters of the gospels. It is where the trial of Jesus took place and where the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus to death.

CRISTIAN VIOLATTICristian is a freelance writer and editor of Ancient History Encyclopedia. He is currently studying archaeology (University of Leicester) and has a strong passion about the Human Past.

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Every US River Visualized in One Glorious Map

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Every US River Visualized in One Glorious Map