New analysis of ceramic vessels from 11th- to 12th-century Jerusalem has found that they were potentially used as early hand grenades.
Previous research into the containers, which are held in museums around the world, had identified that they served a variety of purposes, including as vessels for beer, mercury, oil, and medicine.
However, the latest research, which was conducted by Carney Matheson, Associate Professor at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, has revealed that the vessels contained flammable and probably explosive material – indicating that they were used as weapons.
This would accord with historical accounts of battles from the era, including the 1187 Siege of Jerusalem, which mention the use of weapons similar to hand grenades.
Four pot sherds found between 1961 and 1967 in the Armenian Garden, located within the walled Old City of Jerusalem, and held in the Royal Ontario Museum, were studied as part of the research. Explosive material was found in one of them.
Sulphur was one of the ingredients detected, along with mercury and magnesium, all at higher levels than in the other pots and the surrounding soil.
‘This research has shown the diverse uses of these unique ceramic vessels, which include as ancient explosive devices,’ Matheson said.
‘These vessels have been reported during the time of the Crusades as grenades thrown against Crusader strongholds producing loud noises and bright flashes of light,’ he added.
Previous research had suggested that the vessels held gunpowder, also known as black powder, an explosive invented in ancient China and known to have been introduced in the Middle East from the 9th to 11th century.
However, Professor Matheson has argued that this was not the case. ‘This research has shown that it is not black powder and likely a locally invented explosive material,’ he explained.
‘More research on these vessels and their content will allow us to understand ancient explosive technology of the medieval period, and the history of such weapons in the Eastern Mediterranean,’ Matheson added.