A team of archaeologists from Tel Aviv University returned to Masada in Israel, after 11 years absent to excavate previously unexplored areas in the desert mountains, including a mysterious underground structure.
One of the pleasant palaces of Herod the Great, Masada is best known for the story of the deaths of some 960 opposing Jews and their families in AD 74, who chose to commit mass suicide rather than be captured or massacred by the Romans.
For the first time since 2006, a team from Tel Aviv University in 2017 led by Roman archaeologist Dr Guy Stiebel has launched a new excavation of UNESCO world heritage site, exploring an area previously untouched by a fortress in the legendary desert hills.
“This is the next generation,” Stiebel told The Times of Israel, adding that his team planned to explore a new section of Jewish settlements, as well as a park built by Herod, “Our goal is to explore further the mysterious underground structures, which was detected earlier (1924) through aerial photographs.
Dr. Stiebel expressed his excitement to return to the site after 11 years of absence. “Wells of life will not be enough to catch a glimpse of Masada’s hidden beauty, not only in military equipment, but in other small things.”
Although some experts believe that over 95% of Masada’s potential has been exploited, Stibel believes that there is a core to be found, including a mysterious underground structure located there and waiting to be explored more closely.
Drama History of Desert Masada
Masada’s ancient fortress stands on the eastern edge of the Judean desert. With a height of more than 400 meters facing the west coast of the Dead Sea, the view from the peak of the high land will definitely make a deep breath. But the silence of the ruins belies one of the most interesting episodes in Jewish history.
While the first building in Masada was apparently built by King Hasmonaea, Alexander Jannaeus in the early 1st century BC, most of the buildings were built by Herod the Great during the second half of the century. After Masada was conquered in 42 BC, Masada became a safe haven for Herod and his family during their long struggle to gain power in Israel.
Apart from being a fortress, Masada is also a joy of Herod. As seen here designed Roman villas along the lines and some amphorae found in Masada warehouses have Latin inscriptions, this shows that they store wine imported from Italy. After Herod’s death in 4 BC, Masada became a military outpost, and occupied a Roman garrison, possibly a complementary force.
In AD 66, the first Jewish Revolt broke out, the most comprehensive record of this record can be found in Flavius Josephus “The Jewish War”. According to Josephus, a group of Jewish fanatics, Sicarii succeeded in seizing Masada from Rome in the winter of 66 BC. After the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, Masada was filled with refugees fleeing and determined to continue the struggle against the Romans.
Masada therefore became the base of their deprivation operations for the next two years. In the winter of 73/74 AD, the governor of Judea, Flavius Silva, decided to conquer Masada and destroy the resistance once more and forever. According to Josephus Flavius, the only source of history for the battle, opposing Jews committed suicide en masse before Roman troops stormed the fortress.
The “Next Generation” call begins
In September, 6 months after the previous exploration in February 2017, as disclosed to Forward, Dr. Stiebel is reluctant to reveal too much about his team’s findings until published in a scientific journal. However he and his team have managed to extract “large amounts of data” from the newly excavated area of the site by adopting a multidisciplinary approach.
Beyond typical archeological methods, collaboration with a team of archaeologists allows them to learn about the food of the Masses. Studied pollen samples to study what plants they produce, and examine the fragments of metals and ceramics, further testing for artifacts of 2000 year old artifacts.
These techniques have enabled Dr Stiebel to determine that opposing Jews get the food they are planting on a hill, and raise goats. He also established that a century before the opponents arrived, King Herod imported pure wine from a vineyard in southern Italy.
Previous excavations have produced subtle organic matter: wood, skin, and human hair. Stiebel’s latest excavations in February 2017 resulted in additional pieces of land containing the Hebrew inscription about the last inhabitants of the Jewish Masada.
Recent excavations from Dr. Stiebel also produced more vessels made of dried animal waste found in earlier excavations at the site, the only example of the Judaea Temple in the second Temple. The Mishnah, an early code of law based on the five books of the Bible, mentions the existence of such containers and use among Jews, since unlike ceramics, the vessels made of dirt do not become ritually unclean. The text does not explain why dirt is easier to maintain than pure clay.
Excavations for the first time in the region occurred during the period 1963 – 1965 under the leadership of IDF’s former chief of staff and archaeologist Yigal Yadin. The dry desert climate allows for the preservation of the classy wall paintings and organic remains of Jewish opponents hiding in the mountaintop. The archaeological team will install updates and photos of the site on its Facebook page and website.