Zev Radovan

Lots cast by the defenders of Masada. Atop Masada, a few hundred Jewish fighters—a small, free remnant of the land of Israel—held off Rome’s mighty army for three years. Finally, when defeat was just hours away, these fighters resolved to lie down and die with their families rather than become Roman slaves. These 11 sherds, each inscribed with a different name, all written by the same hand, may have been the lots cast to choose those men who would slay all the rest of the community.

The sherd second from the right in the second row bears the name Ben Ya’ir, the commander of this extraordinary band of men, women and children.

In his book Masada, Yadin was moved to write of these small sherds, “If I were pressed to single out one discovery more spectacular than any other, I would point to a find which may not be of the greatest importance from the point of view of pure archaeology, but which certainly, when we came upon it, electrified everyone in Masada who was engaged in the dig, professional archaeologist and lay volunteer alike.”