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Israeli Archaeologists Critical to Forensic Team's Search for Missing from October 7 Massacre

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The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) is known worldwide for excavating sites and artifacts from biblical times. Now, a new mission has archaeologists involved in recovery efforts from the October 7 massacre.

For the first time, the IAA is using its expertise investigating ancient burn sites to help identify remains of a modern attack in Gaza border communities. 

“We are able to go into these houses and apply our archeological methodology into a modern context – as difficult as that is emotionally – (and) be able to understand what happened in the building, to divide the building into different locations in order to specifically place different events and to sift through the burnt remains, in order to look for anything that can help us identify missing people,” said Israeli archaeologist Dr. Joe Uziel.

That could include, “personal adornments, which may be specific to a certain individual that we know is missing, or human remains primarily human bones, which were burnt,” Uziel said.

As head of the IAA’s Dead Sea Scrolls unit, Uziel normally works in ancient biblical texts.

“As we are familiar with this through our excavation contexts, which we deal with destructions from hundreds and thousands of years ago, we can apply them to the current situation and be able to identify remains of humans,” Uziel told CBN News at the IAA headquarters in Jerusalem.

For more than two weeks, Uziel has been part of 15 archaeologists combing and sifting ashes at Kibbutz Be'eri, Kfar Aza and Nir Oz. They are also examining the contents of incinerated cars from the music festival at Kibbutz Reim.

“To date, dozens (of items) have been retrieved, including the identification of several individuals that were listed as missing. And we can now say with complete certainty that they were killed during this horrible massacre,” Uziel said.

Remains are turned over to the rabbinical unit for DNA identification.  

Archaeologists began their assignment by looking for evidence of missing people known to be in their homes when Hamas attacked.  Later, their mandate broadened to examining all burned houses and cars.

“That is what we deal with on a day-to-day basis is dealing with past events, not modern events. But the transition is one that I think was – I don't want to say natural – but made a lot of sense because again, we're just about the only profession that can get down to this finite definition and help the forces that are working in order to identify these missing people,” he said.

Uziel says while the task is difficult, the archaeologists are thankful they can help in this special way. 

“For me personally, there's a lot of mixed feelings. On the one hand, the things that you see there are unfathomable. You really can’t understand. I mean, you see it on TV, in photos and videos. It's not the same when you're there and you see the level of atrocities that were committed there,” Uziel explained.

“It's really difficult to take in. But on the other hand, to be able to contribute something to help these people, whose families have gone through such horror is in a way uplifting,” he added.

Uziel says they’ll continue with this task for as long as it takes.

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About The Author

Julie Stahl

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel fulltime for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN – first as a graduate student in Journalism; then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91; and now with the Middle East Bureau of CBN News in Jerusalem since 2009. As a correspondent for CBN News, Julie has covered Israel’s wars with Gaza, rocket attacks on Israeli communities, stories on the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and