Ehud Netzer/Israel Exploration Society/Masada Excavations

Whose bones were found at Masada? Until now, the photograph in Yadin’s popular book was the only published image of the bones as found. It does not match Yadin’s report that he had discovered the remains of 25 skeletons. Where are all the skulls? Since Yadin found only 206 bones, and adult humans have 220 bones, where are the other 5,300?

To answer questions like these, James Tabor, of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, tracked down new evidence of the old discovery, including the unpublished field notes on the cave’s excavation and previously unpublished photos, like this one. According to Zias, the new evidence shows that only seven or eight skeletons were found in the cave and that the skeletons had been disturbed by animals. Further, the skeletons probably weren’t the remains of Jews, since bones from pigs, a non-kosher animal, were also found scattered about the cave. The presence of pig bones is common in Roman burials.

The scattering of the bones, in Zias’s opinion, was not the result of the Romans flinging the corpses of the Jewish defenders into the cave, but a hallmark of animals getting to the bodies shortly after their burial. The presence of hyenas and jackals throughout the region, Zias notes, explains the puncture holes in the skulls (visible in this photograph) and long bones, which are the bones favored by predators.