The hilltop fortress in the Negev, where—according to the ancient historian Josephus—some 1,000 Jewish zealots killed themselves rather than fall to the Romans in 73 CE is among Israel’s best known archaeological sites. In conducting the first excavations there in over a decade, archaeologists have uncovered many new details. Ilan Ben Zion writes:
“We’re actually excavating a refugee camp,” said Guy Stiebel, the archaeologist leading the excavations. . . . Masada’s inhabitants during the seven years of the revolt were “a sort of microcosm of Judea back then,” comprising refugees from Jerusalem and across Judea including priests, members of the enigmatic monastic group from Qumran who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, and at least one Samaritan.
“What my expedition intends to do is to reconstruct life at Masada, without even referring to [the fortress’s destruction],” Stiebel said. . . .
Cutting-edge archaeological techniques helped glean a more detailed picture of the past that would have been impossible during the time of [the site’s earlier excavator Yigael] Yadin. The picture emerging from these new data about Masada’s inhabitants is far more complex than previously assumed.
“It’s not one monolithic group,” Stiebel explained, describing the people living at Masada before its fall as a “very vibrant community of 50 shades of gray” of Judea.
“We have the opportunity to truly see the people, and this is very rare for an archaeologist,” he said. Among them are women and children, who are too often underrepresented in the archaeological record. . . . “We know people by name; we know people by profession. We can learn about the way this group of rebels lived,” he said.