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Royal Palaces of Abomey

Macabre Evidence Uncovered in West Africa Finds Palace Made of Blood!

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In West Africa’s tiny country of Benin, along the Gulf of Guinea, there's a palace with a construction history steeped in legend and macabre details. Located in Abomey, the legend says that this palace is said to have been built using the blood of voodoo sacrifice victims. In fact, Benin is often regarded as the birthplace of voodoo, one of the world’s oldest religions. New research now suggests this legend might indeed be true! 

A depiction of Gezo, King of Dahomy.  

A depiction of Gezo, King of Dahomy. ( From Dahomey and the Dahomans, Frederick E Forbes/Public Domain) 

Ghezo: A Ruthless King in a Voodoo Culture 

Abomey, the capital of the ancient Dahomey Kingdom, was ruled by 12 successive kings from the 17th to the early 20th centuries (1600 to 1904 AD). King Ghezo, the ninth ruler, reigned from 1818 to 1858 and was notorious for developing a ruthless militaristic culture. He was generally recognized as a blood-thirsty and power-hungry ruler. 

Ghezo's decorations reflected his militaristic ambitions: the alley leading to his hut was reportedly paved with skulls, and his throne rested on the bones of his enemies. Legend has it that even the funerary huts within Ghezo’s palace - part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site - were constructed using mortar made from the blood of 41 sacrificial victims, a significant number in voodoo. Recently, French archaeologists tested this myth scientifically, confirming its veracity. The study's findings were published in the journal Proteomics. 

The authors write in the study: 

“We conceived an original strategy to analyze the proteins present on minute amounts of the cladding sampled from the inner facade of the cenotaph wall and establish their origin. Several indicators attested to the presence of traces of human and poultry blood in the material taken,”  

Illustration of the wall of King Ghezo's tomb. 

Illustration of the wall of King Ghezo's tomb. Panel A shows a general view of the cenotaph wall. Panel B shows specific detail of the red wall buttressed by a wood beam. (Copyright: Philippe Charlier/Analytical Science) 

Highlighting Ghezo's brutality, the researchers mention that the alley leading to his hut was paved with the skulls and jawbones of defeated foes. Even his throne allegedly rested on the skulls of four vanquished enemy leaders. Within his palace complex lies a funerary hut constructed from unconventional materials. 

“The binder of the walls is not a standard mortar, but is claimed to be made of red oil and lustral water mixed with the blood of 41 sacrificial victims - 41 being a sacred number in voodoo,” explain the researchers. “The victims were probably slaves or captives of enemy populations.” 

In the voodoo culture and religion, which still heavily influences Beninese life, blood offerings, along with prayers and sacred water, are used to consecrate buildings or animate wooden structures called fetishes. In this instance, the sacrificial tribute was intended to protect the lingering essence of the deceased king, reports IFL Science. 

Protein Analysis: Human and Animal Blood Synthesized 

To uncover the exact composition of the palace's mortar, the study's authors employed high-resolution tandem mass spectrometry to analyze the proteins in the cladding. Surprisingly, they found traces of wheat, which was not cultivated in sub-Saharan Africa until long after Ghezo's death. 

Two funerary structures were originally erected to honor Ghezo’s father, the previous king Adandozan. Researchers found the buildings unusual for their choice of materials. Instead of the typical mortar used in similar constructions, these structures utilized red oil and lustral water mixed with human blood.  

Researchers employed a method known as metaproteomics, which analyzes protein samples from specific environments, and combined it with nucleic acid sequencing. This grisly analysis revealed the presence of both human and chicken haemoglobin and immunoglobulin in the binding materials of the structures, reports Popular Mechanics. 

However, Ghezo was an admirer of the French emperor Napoleon III and often sent diplomatic gifts such as fabrics, weapons, and cowries from Benin to France. It is plausible that wheat might have been sent in return, with French baguettes and other baked goods eventually being incorporated into the palace mortar as part of a sacrificial ritual. Proteomic analysis also detected hemoglobin and immunoglobulins from both humans and chickens, confirming that the wall binder indeed contains human blood. 

The study authors note that the death of Dahomey kings was frequently accompanied by the sacrifice of up to 500 victims in a ritual known as the "Great Customs." While it is currently unclear if the blood found in the walls of Ghezo's tomb was shed during such an event, further DNA analysis might reveal the exact number of individuals who unwillingly contributed their blood to consecrate the structure. 

“This insightful metaproteomics analysis of a wall sample from a royal tomb made it possible to confirm not only the presence of human blood, but also to reconstruct entire sections of the ritual of consecration and/or maintenance of vitality corresponding to voodoo beliefs. detection of specific proteins such as those indicating the presence of blood is a strength of the approach, a result that cannot be obtained by metagenomics,” conclude the authors. 

Top image: Royal Palaces of Abomey.  Source: Heerbaart, W/ CC BY 2.0 

References 

Charlier, P., et al. 2024. Metaproteomic analysis of King Ghezo tomb wall (Abomey, Benin) confirms 19th century voodoo sacrifices . Available at: https://doi.org/10.1002/pmic.202400048 

Orf, D. 2024. A Chilling Discovery Suggests This King Built Funerary Huts With Blood From 41 Sacrifice Victims . Available at: https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/archaeology/a60997325/benin-hut-blood/ 

Taub, B. 2024. Palace Made Of Human Blood Confirmed As Site Of Voodoo Sacrifices . Available at: https://www.iflscience.com/palace-made-of-human-blood-confirmed-as-site-of-voodoo-sacrifices-74444 

 
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Sahir

I am a graduate of History from the University of Delhi, and a graduate of Law, from Jindal University, Sonepat. During my study of history, I developed a great interest in post-colonial studies, with a focus on Latin America. I... Read More

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