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Archaeologists discover 1,000-year-old 'hand grenade'

An ancient ceramic shard was found to contain residues that archaeologists believe belonged to an ancient hand grenade.

Four fragments were found in Jerusalem’s Armenian Garden, which was once home to an ancient royal palace. Researchers have also discovered a number of Byzantine Era relics.

They believe that the chemical components for an explosive device were contained in a shard found there.

Early thermal weapons were used by the Byzantine Empire. They were based on the invention a combustible compound called Greek fire. This compound was believed to be based on quicklime and naphtha. It was used to lighten enemy ships.

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The Byzantine soldiers used gunpowder to make medieval grenades for their enemies, even before it was popularized in China.

Research by Professor Carney Matheson, Griffith University in Australia, has revealed evidence of one such grenade. The findings were published in the journal PLOS One.

Professor Matheson stated that these vessels were reported as grenades against Crusader strongholds, producing loud noises or bright flashes light.

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To determine what type of compounds were inside the shards, the team analysed the residues. These residues were compared to the vessel shape and helped identify their purpose.

One had oil residue, indicating that the vessel contained oils. The others were filled with medicinal or scented contents.

The fourth shard, however, was unique. It was very thick with no decoration, and had a spheroconical shape. The residue contained phosphorus which suggests that it may have contained historical incendiary material.

Researchers determined that the fourth shard was the only one because, while the other contained valuable contents at the royal palace, it belonged to an explosive weapon used in the palace’s demise.

The professor said that some researchers had suggested the vessels could be used as grenades. They also contained black powder, which was invented in ancient China and has been proven to have been introduced into Europe and the Middle East by the 13th Century.

He said, “It has been suggested that black powder might have been introduced into the Middle East earlier than these vessels from 9th-11th centuries – but this research has proven that it isn’t black powder and likely an locally invented explosive material.”

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