Bodies at Masada were Romans not Zealots

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An Israeli anthropologist is using modern forensics and an obscure Biblical passage to challenge the accepted wisdom about mysterious human remains found at Masada, the desert fortress famous as the scene of a mass suicide nearly 2,000 years ago.

A new research paper published Friday takes another look at the remains of three people found in a bathhouse at the site — two male skeletons and a full head of women's hair, including two braids. They were long thought to have belonged to a family of Zealots, the fanatic Jewish rebels said to have killed themselves rather than fall into Roman slavery in the spring of 73 A.D., a story that became an important part of Israel's national mythology.

Along with other bodies found at Masada, the three were recognized as Jewish heroes by Israel's government in 1969 and given a state burial, complete with Israeli soldiers carrying flag-draped coffins.

But Israel might have mistakenly bestowed that posthumous honor on three Romans, according to a paper in the June issue of the journal Near Eastern Archaeology by anthropologist Joe Zias and forensics expert Azriel Gorski.

The remains of the three became a key part of the site's story when Masada was excavated in the 1960s. Yigael Yadin, the renowned Israeli archeologist in charge of the dig, thought they illustrated the historical account of Zealot men killing their wives and children and then themselves before the Roman legionnaires breached Masada's defenses...

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