Antisemitic mass murder behind mysterious English grave, researchers say

Skeletons of men, women and children found in a dry well in England identified as victims of an outburst of antisemitic violence brought on by the Third Crusade.

By World Israel News Staff

In 2004, construction workers in the city of Norwich in east England preparing land for a new shopping mall uncovered a centuries-old mass grave containing the remains of at least 17 people.

For years, the grave was a mystery – who had been interred there, and why were they buried en masse outside of a traditional cemetery?

Now, thanks to years of research, a new paper published in Current Biology has supplied the answer: the grave held the victims of an English pogrom.

Seventeen separate individuals were identified at the mass grave, including six adults and 11 juveniles, with both males and females among the dead.

Rather than being buried in a marked graveyard, the remains appear to have been deposited in a dry medieval well almost immediately after death. While remains from mass graves are often laid out carefully, the haphazard positioning of the remains at the Norwich site suggests the victims’ bodies were simply thrown into the dry well shortly after death.

The place of burial, along with the large number of children buried at the site, indicated to researchers that the dead were likely the victims of some sudden catastrophe.

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By 2011, the team investigating the burial site came to suspect that the remains belonged to Jewish victims of anti-Semitic violence, given that DNA samples clearly indicated multiple victims came from the Jewish community.

To verify the theory, researchers took samples from six of the victims.

DNA analysis found that all of those sampled were Ashkenazi Jews, and four of the sixwere closely related, including three full siblings – two children and one young adult.

Through radiocarbon dating, the team ascertained that the bodies had been deposited in the mass grave sometime between the years 1161 and 1216.

While there is a second possible date in that range that researchers say could plausibly be the time of death, the paper concludes that the 17 people in question were most likely victims of the notorious mass killing of local Jews during the February 1190 pogrom.

During the pogrom, which was inspired in part by the launching of the Third Crusade, nearly the entire Jewish population of Norwich was exterminated.

In their paper submitted to Current Biology, the authors concluded that the evidence strongly suggests the grave belongs to victims of that medieval massacre.

“These findings are consistent with accounts of the 1190 CE antisemitic attacks, involving the targeting of households. It is therefore highly probable that the Chapelfield remains were those of victims of the 1190 CE riots, despite the challenges of associating archaeological sites with specific historical events.”