Researchers have discovered grenades that were used in the time of the Crusades within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. In a recent study, the remains of elements of the grenades were analyzed and explosive materials were found inside them.
In the analysis of the objects found in the Garden of Armenia in Jerusalem, these 900-year-old objects were identified to have possibly been hand grenades.
Researchers tested residues on sherds from four sphero-conical vessels, which they dated to the 11th or 12th century.
Chemicals indicative of medicine and oils were found in three of the vessels, but the fourth vessel contained a unique combination of plant-based oils, animal fat, and nitrates, indicating something that was built to explode.
The several sphero-conical vessels excavated from the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem between 1961 and 1967 are artifacts attributed to the Mamluks at the time, a group of enslaved soldiers that eventually won political control across swathes of the Middle East and fought the Crusaders.
Stanica Aurel-Daniel, a researcher at ICEM Tulcea said “Sphero-conical vessels were used as small containers for various substances, another hypothesis indicating even fermented beverages (beer)”.
“Certainly, the use of these containers for Greek fire or grenades remains topical,” the researcher said. She added that she was, however, unaffiliated with the research.
Crusades era and the grenades
Though it’s not the first time the use of grenades in the Crusades has been suggested and there have been previous historical accounts of Saladin’s forces tossing explosives during the Siege of Jerusalem in 1187, the recent analysis lends more credibility to the idea.
The researchers confirmed that the chemical cocktail on the pottery sherd was not black powder, indicating that Crusades-era fighters figured out a way to build explosive, handheld weaponry locally.
In thinking about brutal Crusades weaponry, swords, bows, maces, axes, and flails probably come to mind, but according to a recent study, hand grenades were common, too.
Nature of Grenades discovered
Carney Matheson, a molecular archaeologist at Griffith University in Australia said: “An explosive has two main components: a fuel and an [oxidizer], as well as a vessel that applies pressure to allow the reaction to build pressure until it can cause an explosion.”
“If explosive ingredients are correct, then it advances our understanding of medieval weapons in the Middle East at this time because it shows that the explosive weapons described by the crusaders were a local invention,” said Matheson.
Matheson further added that “the chemical ingredients for these weapons were developed in the Middle East, not the adoption of black powder from China through the silk route.”
Weapons similar to the analysis of the objects were found nearly a century ago in Cairo, and that team found evidence of sulfur and potassium nitrate on the artifacts. However, recent work identified additional nitrates, which are believed to have mixed together to form an oxidizing agent in the heart-shaped ceramic grenades.