The skeletons of 25 soldiers from the 13th-century Crusades have been found in two mass graves with their bones showing marks of numerous brutal injuries inflicted by swords, arrows and maces at Sidon Castle in Lebanon.
Experts believe that King Louis IX of France personally went to Sidon castle after the battle, meaning he could have personally participated in burying these crusaders.
A team of researchers detailed their findings from the analysis of the human skeletal remains excavated at Sidon Castle on the eastern Mediterranean coast of south Lebanon, in a study published in the journal PLoS ONE.
According to a statement made by Bournemouth University last Tuesday (14th September): “The remains from the Sidon Castle excavations were first identified as crusaders based on the inclusion of European style belt buckles and a crusader coin within the graves.”
It also said: “DNA and isotope analyses of their teeth further confirmed that some of the men were born in Europe, while others were the offspring of crusader settlers who migrated to the “Holy Land” and intermarried with local people.”
Between 1095 and 1291, Europeans took up arms and marched to the Middle East with the objective of ‘taking back’ the Holy Land.
Large numbers of these Christian crusaders never returned to Europe and their bodies were dumped in mass graves.
Doctor Richard Mikulski of Bournemouth University, who excavated and analysed the skeletal remains and worked with the archaeologists at the Sidon excavation site, said: “All the bodies were of teenage or adult males, indicating that they were combatants who fought in the battle when Sidon was attacked.”
Mikulski added: “When we found so many weapon injuries on the bones as we excavated them, I knew we had made a special discovery.”
Doctor Martin Smith, also of Bournemouth University, said: “To distinguish so many mixed up bodies and body parts took a huge amount of work, but we were finally able to separate them out and look at the pattern of wounds they had sustained.”
He added: “The way the body parts were positioned suggests they had been left to decompose on the surface before being dropped into a pit sometime later. Charring on some bones suggests they used fire to burn some of the bodies.”
Doctor Piers Mitchell of the University of Cambridge, who was the crusader expert on the project, said: “Crusader records tell us that King Louis IX of France was on crusade in the Holy Land at the time of the attack on Sidon in 1253.”
He added: “He went to the city after the battle and personally helped to bury the rotting corpses in mass graves such as these. Wouldn’t it be amazing if King Louis himself had helped to bury these bodies?”
Mitchell concluded: “So many thousands of people died on all sides during the crusades, but it is incredibly rare for archaeologists to find the soldiers killed in these famous battles. The wounds that covered their bodies allow us to start to understand the horrific reality of medieval warfare.”
The study, titled ‘Weapon injuries in the crusader mass graves from a 13th-century attack on the port city of Sidon (Lebanon)’, was published in the journal PLoS One.
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