Ceramic jars may have been used to make hand grenades — 900 years ago!


Robert Mason/Royal Ontario Museum

A fragmented ceramic container uncovered in Jerusalem may be an early version of a hand grenade that warriors used during the Crusades around 900 years ago, a new study suggests.

Researchers studied fragments of jars known as sphero-conical containers — small, rounded vessels with a pointed end and an opening at the top. The sphero-conical shape was a common design for vessels in the Middle East at the time, the researchers said in a statement. The containers were used for a wide range of purposes, including to hold oils, medicines and mercury, to drink beer from, and more.

In the new study, researchers analyzed chemical remains found within four sphero-conical containers that were uncovered at a site called Armenian Gardens in Jerusalem and date to between the 11th and 12th centuries. The team found that one container was likely used to hold oil, another two stored scented materials, such as perfume or medicine, while the final container was laced with traces of explosive materials — hinting that it was used as a handheld explosive device.

This is not the first time researchers have suggested that hand grenades were used during the Crusades…First-hand accounts from Crusader knights and passages from Arab texts mention the use of handheld devices that exploded with loud noises and a flash of light during the conflicts.

Explosives, including gunpowder, were being used in warfare a century earlier than the potential use of these containers as hand grenades. The necessary addition was a reliable fuse. I’m certain they were around then, as well.

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