Archaeologists have analyzed the remains in four medieval pottery pieces and found that one of them may have been used as a hand grenade, according to recent document published in PLOS One magazine. And the explosives used were probably locally produced, not gunpowder imported from China.

Byzantine soldiers used early versions of grenades in the 8th century AD, building on “Greek fire“Invented a century earlier. Instead of using Greek fire with flamethrowers, they put the flammable material in small stone or ceramic (and later glass) jars to create hand-held explosives. By the 10th century, the technology had spread to China. , with Chinese soldiers packing gunpowder in ceramic or metal containers with a fuse attached.

India probably also had grenade-like weapons. A 12th-century manuscript (based on earlier Sanskrit work) describes a terracotta elephant full of explosives with a fuse that was dropped on an invading army. A Chinese treatise from the middle of the 14th century mentions a “thundering cannon from a flying cloud”, described as a cast-iron shell shaped like a ball and approximately the size of a bowl filled with gunpowder (“divine fire”). Such grenades first appeared in Europe in 1467 and have been a staple in the war ever since.

So it is quite probable that the grenades were also part of the weapons in Jerusalem from the 11th and 12th centuries. According to Carney Mathison, an archaeologist from Griffith University in Australia, and his co-authors of the latest PLOS One paper, small ceramic vessels (ranging from a few centimeters to 20 centimeters in diameter) from the 9th to the 15th century are common in excavations everywhere. Middle East. Many of them have conical bases and spheroidal bodies, and the ubiquity of these spherical-conical artifacts suggests that the vessels were used for many different functions.

Shard # 741 was probably used as an oil container.
Zoom in / Shard # 741 was probably used as an oil container.

CD Matheson et al., 2022

Possible uses include: a plumb line or weight for a loom, a liquid sprinkler, a lighter, a lamp, a smoking pipe or parts of a distillation apparatus. They have also probably been used as containers holding wine, honey, beer, medicines, aromatic oils, holy water, mercury or perfumes. And there is some evidence in historical documents that such vessels were used as grenades. Residue analysis may help confirm these proposed uses, but according to Matheson et al., very few such experiments have been conducted.

Therefore, the team decided to analyze the remains of four ceramic pieces of pottery excavated from the Armenian Gardens in Jerusalem between 1961 and 1967, an area that was also the site of the Royal Crusaders’ Palace. All pieces are stored in the Royal Ontario Museum. One fragment (# 741) was orange with a reddish-brown inside; fragment # 742 is gray-green with a pale green inner surface; fragment # 744 was greenish with a pale gray interior; and fragment # 737 was dense and gray, both inside and out.

A mixture of sulfur, mercury and organic matter indicates that fragment # 742 may contain drugs.
Zoom in / A mixture of sulfur, mercury and organic matter indicates that fragment # 742 may contain drugs.

CD Matheson et al., 2022

None of the pieces have been treated by conservationists, except for light brushing and rinsing with water. Since the artifacts were unearthed in the 1960s, Matheson et al. could not take soil samples from the archeological site. However, they used existing available data on the composition of soils in this region of Jerusalem – mainly limestone and dolomite with chalk patches that decompose into terra rosa and pale rendzina – for comparison with residue analyzes.

It was fragment # 737 that turned out to be the most interesting for researchers. The residue contained sulfur and mercury, as well as magnesium, nitrates, phosphorus, calcium (probably derived from calcium oxide, a component of Greek fire), lead and iron. Matheson et al. noted that this implies vegetable oils, glycerol and animal fats, according to the container used to store oils, perfumes or medicines and as a source of fuel for weapons or lamps.

It may have had many uses, but the authors believe that the possibility of using it as a grenade is worth serious consideration. Thick walls could withstand rising pressure before detonation; the vessel was gray and undecorated; its size, shape and weight are approximately the optimal size for a hand grenade of the type described in historical accounts.

Part 744 was probably also used to store drugs.
Zoom in / Part 744 was probably also used to store drugs.

CD Matheson et al., 2022

“These ships were reported during the Crusades as grenades thrown at crusader fortresses, making loud noises and bright flashes of light.” said Mathison. “Some researchers suggest that the vessels were used as grenades and held black powder, an explosive invented in ancient China and known to have been introduced to the Middle East and Europe in the 13th century. It has been suggested that black powder may have been introduced to the Middle East earlier, from these vessels of the 9th-11th centuries. However, this study showed that it was not black powder and was probably locally invented explosive material.

As for the other three pieces, the remainder of # 741 had some fatty acids and only a small amount of sulfur that may have come from the surrounding soil. The authors concluded that this vessel was probably used as a container for oils. The remainder of fragment № 742 includes animal fats, vegetable oils, resin, salts and mercury, with little added sodium. Sulfur, mercury and organic matter indicate that the container may have contained drugs.

Finally, the remainder of fragment # 744 contains vegetable oils, animal fats, by-products that may have come from fermentation (for making wine or beer) and sulfur. Matheson et al. concluded that it is also used to store drugs, despite the large amount of sulfur. “Sulfur has been used in alchemy, ancient medicines and ancient weapons, but requires an oxidant as a weapon and no oxidant has been identified in this residue,” the authors write.

DOI: PLoS ONE, 2022 10.1371 / journal.pone.0267350 (Regarding DOI).

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