Although I always argue that written evidence is the most desired find by archaeologists when digging a site, occasionally “silent” finds can cause just the same excitement. Such finds were revealed in the last season of
excavation at Tell Rechov, 10 km south of Biblical Beth-Shean.
An archaeological expedition directed by Prof. A Mazar of the Hebrew university has been digging Beth-Shean and Rehov since 1989.
In the Bible, Beth-Shean is recorded as the city where the bodies of Saul and his sons were hung by the Philistines. In Classical Times Beth-Shean developed into a major city and was even the capital of the province of “Palaestine Secunda”.
The site has been explored by many archaeological expeditions, since the 19th century. The Biblical remains show that Beth-Shean was a regional center, but not a big site, even by Biblical standards. That was one of the reasons Prof. Ami Mazar investigated nearby Tell Rehov.
Tell Rehov is larger then Beth-Shean and is mentioned in Egyptian sources as a regional center in Canaanite times. The spies sent by Moses to view the “promised land” traveled “from the wilderness of Zin to Rehov, (and) to Levo-Hamat” (Numbers 13:21).
Yet although apparently a significant site, no systematic excavations were done at Rehov prior to Prof. Mazar’s expedition.
As expected, the site yielded much material for analysis, but perhaps the most dramatic find so far was exposed during the 1997 season, and recently published in Israel Exploration Journal. It was found in the destruction debris of layer 3 which is attributed to the Assyrian conquest of the site in 732 BCE (2 Kings 15:29).
In two rooms two human skeletons were discovered. This is how Mazar describes this discovery: “One was in a contracted position, with the skull missing. The other was found in an adjacent room. It was a skeleton of a young woman, in a position indicating that she was thrown into the corner of the room and died on the spot, her hands holding the knees of her contracted legs”. Prof. Mazar concludes: “This may have been a result of a massacre of people in their homes, in is clear evidence for a violent and dramatic end to the Iron Age II city.”
These find seem to be the most dramatic and clear evidence of the conquest of northern Israel by the Assyrians in the 8th century BCE, a conquest that led to the disappearance of ten of the tribes of Israel.