Royal tomb in Benin has traces of human blood on its walls, hinting at human sacrifice, study finds

By Jurassic JennJun 29, 2024 10:05 AMScience
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Royal tomb in Benin has traces of human blood on its walls=
Royal tomb in Benin has traces of human blood on its walls. Source: www.livescience.com

A recent study conducted in Benin has confirmed the existence of human blood within the walls of a ceremonial tomb, providing evidence for the long-standing legend of human sacrifice in the area. Researchers analyzed the proteins present in the tomb's walls and determined that they could only have originated from human blood. This groundbreaking discovery was made possible through the field of paleoproteomics, which focuses on studying trace proteins found in archaeological settings.

The tomb in question is located in Abomey, which was once the capital of the Dahomey kingdom in West Africa. Built in the 19th century by King Ghezo of Dahomey to honor his brother King Adandozan, the tomb incorporates plaster that, according to local lore, includes the blood of 41 human sacrifices. In the study, biochemist Jean Armengaud and his colleagues highlight how 41 was considered a sacred number.

King Ghezo's reign, from 1818 to 1858, was marked by military expeditions against the Yoruba state, dismantling an annual tribute of slaves to the Dahomey kingdom. Accounts of the time describe Ghezo's display of defeated enemies as a means of solidifying his powerful rule. The path leading to his hut was paved with skulls and jawbones, with one of his thrones adorned with skulls of enemy leaders.

By utilizing tandem mass spectrometry, an analytical technique, the researchers successfully identified the presence of thousands of microorganisms, human blood, and chicken blood in the samples taken from the tomb's wall. Their findings corroborated historical accounts that claimed the plaster used for the tomb mixed blood from human sacrifices with "red oil" and sacred water.

Paleoproteomics has shown superiority in this study, as it preserves proteins that offer more stable information compared to DNA analysis. While traditional methods like paleogenomics can determine the presence of genetic material, paleoproteomics provides greater context regarding the individuals involved in building the structure.

Furthermore, researchers aim to incorporate paleogenomic techniques to further explore the number and origins of the sacrificial victims, offering additional insight into the historical context. Matthew Collins, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge, commended the study's contribution, stating that it highlighted the application of proteomics in complex situations and the ability to ascertain the presence of tissue proteins connected to human blood.

This groundbreaking study not only confirms the historicity of human sacrifice in the region but also sheds light on the rituals and practices prevalent during that era. The findings provide valuable insights into the cultural and historical significance of the tomb, filling gaps in our understanding of ancient traditions in Benin.

In conclusion, the discovery of human blood within the royal tomb in Benin showcases the power of paleoproteomics, allowing us to investigate and uncover connections to rituals that were part of the Dahomey kingdom's history. Though grisly, this revelation contributes to our understanding of the cultural richness and complex dynamics of the past.

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