Biblical Archaeology Review 37:4, July/August 2011

Archaeological Views: Uncovering the Secrets of the Dead

By Patricia Smith

In 604 B.C.E. Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed ancient Ashkelon, leaving the town in ruins. In 1992 archaeological excavations carried out by Lawrence E. Stager, director of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon, discovered grim evidence of this event.a On the floor of a shop burned and ruined during the destruction was a badly crushed human skeleton. It was sprawled on its back with limbs splayed, indicative of sudden death.

Who was this person abandoned in the debris? One of the invaders or one of the victims? What kind of life did this person lead, and what was the cause of death? The bones hold the answers to many of these questions.

Examination showed that these were the bones of a woman. Women tend to be smaller and less muscular than men. This means that their bones are more slender, with smaller protuberances for muscle attachments. The differences are most marked in the skull and pelvis. For example, the angle between the upper borders of the eye sockets and forehead of this skeleton were sharp, and the bone above them was smooth, lacking the ridges typical of men. The bony protuberances behind the ears (the mastoid processes) were also small and thin, in contrast to those of men. In addition, the pelvic bones were everted at their bases, pushing out the hips, a female adaptation that maximizes the space available for the birth canal.

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