Sep 30, 2022
JERUSALEM WEATHER
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In 2004, the remains of at least 17 people including 11 children were discovered at the bottom of a medieval well during the construction of a shopping mall in Norwich England. The identity of the bodies and the story behind them remained a mystery until this week when the results of DNA analysis confirmed that they were Ashkenazi Jews, the victims of an antisemitic riot that took place on February 6,  in 1190 CE. Of the 17 people, six had well-preserved enough DNA to test and sequence. The analysis used radiocarbon dating of the bones as well as analysis of the pottery fragments found at the site. The results suggested that they had been alive between 1161 and 1216. The findings indicated that three of them were sisters, and the others were likely also related.

The scientists involved extracted DNA from the remains and compared it to samples taken from modern Ashkenazi Jews.

“I’m delighted and relieved that 12 years after we first started analyzing the remains of these individuals, technology has caught up and helped us to understand this historical cold case of who these people were and why we think they were murdered,” said Dr. Selina Brace, a specialist at the Natural History Museum in London and the lead author on the study.

Their DNA included variants associated with genetic diseases more commonly found in Ashkenazi Jewish populations today.

The mass murder was recorded by the chronicler Ralph de Diceto in his Imagines Historiarum II where he wrote: “Accordingly on 6th February [in 1190 AD] all the Jews who were found in their own houses at Norwich were butchered; some had taken refuge in the castle.” The medieval cleric described how in February 1190 “many of those who were hastening to Jerusalem” to partake in the recently launched Third Crusade were “determined first to rise against the Jews,”

The mass murder of the Jews of York came in the wake of the first accusation in history that Jews murdered Christian children in order to use their blood for baking Matza. This accusation, called a blood libel, became a common source of antisemitism that persisted until the 19th century. The murder accusation in York was initiated by a Benedictine Monk investigating the murder. Historians believe the true motive behind the libel was the debts that many of  theChristians owed to Jewish money lenders. These debts had increased due to the Third Crusades. It is believed that in one incident, some 150 Jews from 140 families were trapped in a tower on Shabbat Hagadol, the sabbath preceding Passover. The mob offered to release any Jews who converted to Christianity. A few chose this option but were murdered as they left the tower. The rest were burned to death in the tower. Hostility against Jews continued until, in 1290, Jews were expelled from England. Jews were not officially allowed to resettle in England until after 1655.

Researchers noted that the victims were thrown in headfirst, with the bodies of the adults cushioning the children’s fall. Because the skeletons showed no signs of trauma associated with trying to break a fall, the victims were likely already dead when deposited into the well. In 2013, Norwich’s Jewish community buried the remains at the Jewish Cemetery in Earlham Cemetery.