760-Year-Old Crusader Mass Graves Were Just Discovered In Lebanon

BlingBling10/Wikipedia | Claude Doumet-Serhal

Archaeologists have discovered two mass tombs containing the remains of at least 25 young men and teenage boys from the time of the Crusades near the Saint Louis Citadel (Qalaat al Muizz) in Sidon, southern Lebanon.

Live Science reported that they were found inside a dry trench near Al-Qalaa, along with a metal buckle that hailed from an area that currently includes Belgium and France.

“All of the bones bear unhealed wounds from stabbing, slicing, or blunt force trauma” suggesting that they died in battle in the 13th century, according to the archaeologists’ findings published in the journal PLOS One.

Studies of tooth isotopes and DNA show that some of them were European-born while others were born locally from European Crusaders and local mothers, as noted in the reports by the Daily Mail’s Stacy Liberatore.

The Saint Louis Citadel, also known as Qalaat al Muizz and the Land Castle – via Saidon

The Crusades took place between the 11th and 13th centuries, with the aim to protect The Holy Lands.

The Crusaders remain in the region for about 300 years, built castles and fortresses, such as Saint Gilles in Tripoli, faced battles and wars, and left their marks till today in Lebanon, from south to north.

They settled in the country and called it home, with intermarriages occurring, which explained the presence of the young dead soldiers born to locals.

It was in the year 1100, during the Frist Crusade, that the French Crusaders conquered Sidon then built the Castle of Saint Louis in 1254, on the site of an earlier Fatimid fortress, to protect the city, which they did for over a century.

The Castle was partially destroyed in 1253 during an attack by the Mamluks, and then again in 1260 by the Mongols; both times, the raging war caused countless deaths on both opposing sides.

It is speculated that these 25 young soldiers were most likely killed during the attack of 1253.

According to Piers Mitchell, an anthropologist at the University of Cambridge, it was King Louis IX of France, who “was at the head of a crusade to the Holy Land at the time of the Sidon attack,” who ordered their burial.

“Louis IX went to the city after the battle and personally helped bury the rotting bodies in mass graves like this one,” Mitchell said.

“When we found a lot of traces of injuries on the bones, we were sure that we had made a special discovery,” said Richard Mikulski, an archaeologist at Britain’s Bournemouth University, who excavated and analyzed the remains.

The uniqueness in that discovery lies in that “it is incredibly rare for archaeologists to find the soldiers killed in these famous battles,” Mitchell explained.

“The wounds that covered their bodies allow us to start to understand the horrific reality of medieval warfare,” he said.

bones of cursades in sidon
Photo by Claude Doumet-Serhal

The methods used to kill these dead soldiers are reported as horrific. Their bones bore traces of stab wounds by swords and axes, evidence of severe injuries, and also beheading and charring.

“The soldiers were wounded more in their backs than in the front, which indicates that many of them were attacked from behind, perhaps during attempts to escape. A sign that they might have been captured alive before they were beheaded,” the researchers noted.

According to the Smithsonian Magazine, “some of the bones show signs of charring, suggesting a number of the bodies were burned.”

There is also speculation that there could have been an attempt to burn the bodies before they were abandoned on the battleground, and were later transported to the mass graves by order of King Louis IX.

According to the Department of Archeology at Cambridge University, up till now, there are very few mass grave sites related to these conflicts that have been uncovered or studied.

This macabre discovery presents a rare opportunity for archaeologists to study that important era in the region and probably brings about more information than the fewer existing ones.

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