DNA from human remains found in medieval well shines new light on Jewish history

DNA from human remains found in medieval well shines new light on Jewish history. Image: National History Museum

The whole genome analyses reveal the individuals appear to be a group of Ashkenazi Jews who fell victim to antisemitic violence during the 12th century.

In 2004 archaeological excavations in central Norwich in the UK uncovered a medieval well containing the remains of at least 17 people, mostly children, the Natural History Museum confirmed on Tuesday, August 30.

Scientists analysed DNA from the remains of six of these individuals, finding strong genetic affinities with modern Ashkenazi Jews, making them the oldest Jewish genomes to have been sequenced.

New radiocarbon dating analyses are consistent with these people being victims of a historically-recorded antisemitic massacre by local crusaders and their supporters in Norwich on 6th February 1190 AD.

Four of the probable victims were relatives, including three young sisters (aged 5-10 years, 10-15 years and a young adult).

Their genomes included variants associated with genetic diseases that are found more commonly in Ashkenazi Jewish populations today.

These findings provide new insights into a significant historical crime, into Ashkenazi population history, and overturn the previously-held view that disease-related variants associated with Ashkenazi Jewish populations only became more common in the last 600 years.

In 2004, construction workers digging in advance of the Chapelfield shopping centre development in Norwich, UK, uncovered a medieval well containing the remains of at least 17 people, most of whom were children.


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Written by

Anna Ellis

Originally from the UK, Anna is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at [email protected]

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