Brutal 13th-Century death pit from Russian ‘city drowned in blood’ contains the remains of a grandmother, mother and grandson murdered by Mongols 800 years ago
A series of ‘death pits’ containing 300 bodies have been discovered in Russia.
The grisly site, which was found in the city of Yaroslavl, northeast of Moscow, likely dates back to the Mongol invasion of Europe in 1238.
During this time, Genghis Khan’s grandson, Batu Khan, decimated entire communities in his brutal – and bloodthirsty – bid for power.
Now, thanks to scientific advances, DNA evidence has revealed that three of the victims were related and killed together: a grandmother, a mother and a grandson.
Experts from Russia’s Institute of Archaeology, plus the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, have now analysed the remains to paint a clearer picture of the victims, whose bodies were dumped in one of nine mass graves.
The matriarch was at least 55 years-old, her daughter was around 30 to 40 years-old and the grandson was no more than 20.
Although DNA confirms they were blood relatives, it was somewhat obvious to anthropologists – they all shared certain skull features, and all of their skeletons showed signs of spina bifida, a hereditary birth defect that produces an underdeveloped spinal cord.
Further evidence of the murdered family’s wealth was detected in their teeth.
Their remains showed more advanced tooth decay than in the other townsfolk, hinting that the family’s diet included regular helpings of honey and sugar — a sign of elevated status.
Genetic analysis also pinpointed a possible fourth family member, a maternal relative, buried nearby, the scientists said.
The life stages of preserved maggots in the remains indicated that the flies laid their eggs on the corpses in warm weather – which suggests that the bodies were decomposing in the open for months before being buried.
‘In April or May, flies started to multiply on the remains, and in late May or early June, they were buried in a pit on the homestead, which is where they probably had lived,’ Engovatova said.
The data was presented at at the Alekseyev Readings conference in Moscow.
Though scholars have argued that Khan’s Golden Horde peacefully acquired territory in Russia, the gruesome evidence at Yaroslavl proves otherwise, the scientists said.
Signs of brutality were seen in the hundreds of hastily-buried bodies, their bones punctured, broken and burned.
By the time the Mongol invaders were done with Yaroslavl and the Russian town had fallen, it was truly a ‘city drowned in blood,’ the horrific fate of its residents later woven into legend, the team added.
‘Batu Khan’s conquest was the greatest national tragedy, surpassing any other event in cruelty and destruction,’ Engovatova said. ‘It is not by chance that it is among the few such events that made its way into the Russian folklore.’