Severed Hands in Ancient Egypt

In the news in the last few months we’ve been seeing tons of stories popping up regarding the severed feet washing up in the PNW and Canada. But, this is not the first time in human history that a strange amount of severed body parts have all been found in one place. In fact, archaeologists working on excavating a palace in what was once Avaris in Egypt made quite an eerie discovery.

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The ancient city of Avaris (now known as Tell el-Daba) is northeast of Cairo, along the Nile. The palace owner, at that time, was Seusernre Khyan. The bones are believed to be about 3,600 years old and are from the Hyksos people.

The hands were first discovered when archaeologists unearthed four pits that were, believed to be, in front of what would have been the throne room. Two of the pits contained one hand per pit. It is believed, according to ehyptologis Manfred Bietak and his team, that each hand in the pit represent a particular ceremony. Fourteen additions hands, believed to be buried at a later date, were found in two pits located in the outer grounds of the palace.

All of the hands are right hands. And, Bietak notes, “Most of the hands are quite large and some of them are very large.”

This archaeological discovery is actually the first physical proof that is common in ancient Egyptian writing and art. Remember when Bietak pointed out the size of the hands? Well, it is likely because they are the hands of soldiers. The ritual consists of a soldier presenting the severed right hand of an enemy to a noble in exchange for gold.

According to LiveScience, “One account is written on the tomb wall of Ahmose, son of Ibana, an Egyptian fighting in a campaign against the Hyksos. Written about 80 years later than the time the 16 hands were buried, the inscription reads in part:

"Then I fought hand to hand. I brought away a hand. It was reported to the royal herald." For his efforts, the writer was given "the gold of valor" (translation by James Henry Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Volume II, 1905).”

But, why only right hands?

Well, there are a few reasons. One of them is quite mundane - it is easier to keep track of how many victims the soldier claimed. Additionally, Bietak explains that the removal of the right hand is symbolic, "You deprive him of his power eternally.”


The above image is unrelated to the story and is in the public domain. This painting is by Hermann Vogel (1854 - 1921) and is entitled Einfall der Hyksos. The Hyksos invaders are depicted just after a victorious battle against the Egyptians.