The grim reality of life in ancient Egypt: Scarred skeletons reveal workers were brutally lashed with SPEARS if they were found stealing or slacking off at work
- Archaeologists identified 'slot-type fracture lesions' in bones of five men
- Injuries were inflicted with spears and may have been corporal punishment
- Punishment of '100 lashes and five wounds' is described in ancient texts
- Wounds on the bones, unearthed in Amarna, Egypt match the description
Life in ancient Egypt is known to have been brutal at times but now a skeleton has revealed the true extent of the violence meted out to its citizens.
Egyptologists have in the past found punishments inscribed on ancient tablets - '100 lashes and five wounds' is just one example - but it was not known if such acts were isolated moments of extreme barbarity or common practice.
Now experts believe they have may found proof of such corporal punishment on the skeletons of five men buried in a cemetery for commoners in Amarna, Egypt.
The injuries are said to have been inflicted with a spear and left 'slot-type fracture lesions' in the shoulder blade.
A punishment of '100 lashes and five wounds' was previously found on an ancient Egyptian carving, but until now it was unknown if this was brutal act was common practice. Now experts believe they have may found proof of such corporal punishment on the skeletons of five men buried in a cemetery in Amarna, Egypt
It is not known whether the men were thieves or received the punishment for a civil offence, such as not working fast enough.
The scars suggest that life in Amarna, a city dedicated to the god Aten that was built from stone blocks 3,300 years ago, was a tough place to live.This is further evidenced by the fact the skeletons also bear the marks of joint disease and malnutrition.
However, despite the brutality of the punishment, researchers believe that people who received it would have been able to return to work relatively quickly.
This would have been important in a city that revolved around quarrying and building.
The injuries are said to have been inflicted with a spear and left 'slot-type fracture lesions' in the shoulder blade. This image shows scapular lesion on the right shoulder blade. The small holes marked by the white arrows appeared as the body decomposed after death
Despite the brutality of the punishment, researchers believe that people who received it could return to work relatively quickly, which would have been important in a city that revolved around quarrying and building. An ancient text showing someone being beaten is shown above
The bones point to evidence that life in Amarna, a city dedicated the god Aten that was built from stone blocks 3,300 years ago, was a tough place to live. The skeletons also bear the marks of joint disease and malnutrition. A small temple to Aten at the archaeological site is pictured above
Amarna was briefly the capital city during the reign of Akhenaten between 1352 and 1336 BC, and many grand palaces and temples were built quickly at the order of the 'heretic king', meaning work was particularly challenging for labourers.
CORPORAL AND CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IN ANCIENT EGYPT
Harsh punishments were dished out all over Ancient Egypt.
The punishment for treason was death, but torture was used to force a confession.
Perjury was also punishable by death because accused men in court had to take an oath on the life on the pharaoh, so if they lied, they were found to intend injury to the king – another capital offence.
During the Ramesside period - the rule of eleven kings with the name Ramesses - thieves had their feet beaten or noses and ears cut off.
Those who committed serious crimes such as murder, faced being burned alive or impaled on poles.
Francine Nicholas of the University of Sheffield explained in a blog post that so many punishments involved body mutilation because it destroyed people's 'wholeness'.
Importantly, this destroyed any prospect of entering the afterlife as well as failing to achieve physical perfection, which was a preoccupation at the time.
Those buried in the commoners' cemetery suffered from high rates of joint disease, indicating they often carried heavy loads and perhaps helped to build the grand structures.
They also show signs of scurvy and other signs of malnutrition.
The authors of the study, published in the International Journal of Paleopathology, noticed the wounds on the skeletons just under a decade ago.
They established the wounds must have been inflicted by someone standing close behind the victims, making them unlikely to be battle wounds.
The study said: 'Given the location, morphology, and surrounding bony changes, these lesions are consistent with sharp force trauma, specifically stabbing.
'These lesions most likely represent the consequence of corporal punishment in the form of "strokes" accompanied by "open wounds" known from Egyptian literature for punishment of a wide range of civil and criminal activities.'
One Egyptian tale said a man who stole an ox received the punishment, while a royal decree also describes it being dished out to officials overseeing a failed building project.
It's not certain whether the harsh punishment was unique to Amarna, but other crimes such as grave robbing or tax evasion were punishable by amputations or even death elsewhere in the kingdom.
Gretchen Dabbs of Southern Illinois University, told USA Today that the lives of everyday people in Amarna 'were filled with hardships that included heavy labour and often dietary insufficiency.
'We know that life in this place was physically taxing.'
Dr Dabbs hopes this mystery may be solved by Egyptologists checking skeletons recovered from elsewhere in case they bear similar wounds.
The scars suggest that life in Amarna, a city dedicated to the god Aten that was built from stone blocks 3,300 years ago, was a tough place to live. A lesion is shown in an X-ray (left) and a close-up of cut bone (right)
The ancient Egyptian city of Tell el-Amarna, or simply Amarna (shown on the map with a red marker) was a grand city with many palaces and temples. It's now a large archaeological site on the banks of the Nile
Amarna was briefly the capital city during the reign of Akhenaten (stone bust pictured) between 1352 and 1336BC, and many grand palaces and temples were built quickly at the order of the 'heretic king', meaning work was particularly challenging for labourers