How did people live (and die) in the biblical Azeca? 4 skeletons shed light

About 3,200 years ago, a building caught fire and collapsed in the city of Azekah, mentioned several times in the Bible. Two teenagers, a young man and a woman were trapped and killed in the structure.

Millennia later, his bones have offered archaeologists a glimpse into his lifestyle, health and challenges, as well as his last moments before he died, as revealed in a recent article published in the International Journal of Osteoarcheology.

At that time, the southern Levante was going through a period of crisis. The Egyptian Empire, the regional power of the time, collapsed, weather conditions worsened, and trade declined. In those years, some important cities in the area, including Hazor and Laquis, as well as Azekah, were completely destroyed. What caused the destruction, widely documented by archaeological finds, is still up for debate.

Established about 3,500 years ago, Azekah features remains dating from the late Roman period.

In the biblical book of Joshua, it is described as one of the cities of the Amorite kings, which the prophet destroyed by conquering the land of Israel.


The Lord panicked them to Israel: [Joshua] he inflicted a crushing defeat on them at Gibeon, pursued them in the direction of the ascent to Beth-horon, and harassed them as far as Azeca and Maceda, ”reads a passage from the tenth chapter of the book.

Since 2012, the site is excavated by the Lautenschlaeger Azekah Expedition, in cooperation between Tel Aviv University and two German universities, Heidelberg and Tübingen.

The four skeletons discovered by archaeologists were found under the ruins of a single building.

Investigators used modern methods of fire scene investigation and forensic analysis to analyze the remains.

Three of the four skeletons were found crushed and burned. The room was in a better state of preservation. One person was approximately between 15 and 17 years old, but it was not possible to determine their biological gender, one probably belonged to a young man between 19 and 25 years old, another to a woman between 35 and 45 years old and the last and best kept for a girl . also around 15-17 years.

All had signs of anemia, caused by malnutrition, possibly during childhood, or other forms of chronic disease.

At the same time, they appeared to lead a very active lifestyle, with injuries to the remains of the bodies compatible with activities that were very common at the time and even witnessed in the same building where the Azekhans found their deaths.

“It is often argued that this injury pattern is related to spinal compression during lifting and carrying heavy objects,” authors Karl Berendt, Sandra Garvie-Lok, Pamela Mayne Correia of the University of Alberta wrote in the article. Canada and Oded Lipschits and Yuval Gadot of TAU. “More than 115 heavy Canaanite storage vessels, comprising nearly half of the ceramic vessels found in the building, provide an example of the types of loads that community residents may have carried.

“Artistic representations, literary works and historical linguistics indicate that two people could carry these two- or four-handle containers by supporting them from both sides with flexed forearms,” ​​they added.

The remains of two people suggested that they also did a lot of grinding.

“In fact, in Building T2 / 627 a grinding facility was discovered that consisted of an enclosure with a saddle and a large collecting tank. [the excavated building] along with various grinding stones, ”the researchers noted. “It is suggested that this installation, along with the surrounding ceramic assemblage, was part of a large-scale production operation beyond the needs of these four individuals, consistent with the idea that Individuals 3 and 4 might have been habitually compromised. in this homework. “

Finally, the first individual, the most graceful, seemed to have used a thumb motion compatible with spinning or polishing pigments.

Regarding the cause of their deaths, “there are no signs of trauma suggestive of interpersonal violence, such as cutting force trauma or defensive wounds, and no weapons or other signs of an aggressive act were found in the layer of destruction”, the authors de wrote the newspaper.

Instead, the four Azekahns seemed to have been caught off guard by the fire. All of them were found in positions suggesting that they tried to protect themselves, such as in the fetal position, or to escape. It is likely that the first three people died from an accident when the building collapsed, and the fourth could also have died from fire or smoke.

“The location of the find of these individuals suggests typical behavior of modern fire victims attempting to escape from a building, and at least two of them appeared to display body positions reflecting attempts at self-protection from an impact from above, suggesting that they were alive and moving around the building for a brief period while it was on fire, ”the newspaper reads.

In the future, the researchers hope that it will also be possible to shed light on the larger pictures of what happened in those decades in Azekah.

“We hope that a much broader integrative discussion in the future can build on this research to try to conclude exactly what events caused the destruction of this building and the city of Azekah at the end of the Final Bronze Age,” they said. concluded.

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