They were all right hands, and all large enough that they were probably from men, leading investigators to think they were trophies from a battle. Ancient Egyptian records mention the practice of collecting enemy hands to trade in for gold, but this is the first material evidence.
Like many sites in the country, Tell-el-Daba was inhabited for many centuries. Its high point, however, was actually a low point for the rest of Egypt. Around 1610 B.C., archaeologists believe it became the capital for the Hyksos, a little-understood Eastern people who conquered much of northern Egypt.
Known as Avaris, the town grew and a large palace was built. It was in the palace precinct that the team found the severed hands. According to the team’s press release, 14 were deposited in a pit in an outer courtyard, and two more in two pits in an outbuilding. One can imagine Hyksos warriors coming back from a successful battle against the Egyptians and showing off the hands to their ruler to claim their reward. The Good Old Days were pretty brutal.
The location didn’t stay in the invaders’ hands for long. It was reconquered by the Egyptian pharaoh Ahmose around the year 1530 B.C.