Masada: Arms and the Man
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Sometimes we make discoveries not by digging in the ground, but by digging in the records of past excavations. So it is with Masada, Herod’s nearly impregnable palace-fortress in the Judean wilderness, occupied and defended by Jewish Zealots during the First Jewish Revolt against Rome. Masada was excavated in the 1960s by Israel’s most illustrious archaeologist, Yigael Yadin. It was a massive effort mobilizing hundreds of volunteers from all over the world. Yadin died in 1984, his final report still incomplete. Led by archaeologist Ehud Netzer, a team of scholars has taken up the task of analyzing the vast number of finds uncovered during Yadin’s three full years of digging.
In the BAR 17:06, Netzer looked at Yadin’s records and observed puzzling patterns of conflagration in the buildings on the mountain.a With the aid of Josephus’ accounts of the fall of Masada, Netzer proposed a new understanding of how the Jewish defenders—during their desperate last days—scavenged the buildings on Masada to build a wood-and-earth reinforcement wall to withstand the war machines of the Roman army.

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