Tomb And Teeth: A Dentist’s View Of Ancient Israelites -- By: Austin Robbins

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 08:4 (Autumn 1995)
Article: Tomb And Teeth: A Dentist’s View Of Ancient Israelites
Author: Austin Robbins

Tomb And Teeth:
A Dentist’s View Of Ancient Israelites

Austin Robbins

Austin Robbins, DDS, recently retired from private practice in New Jersey. He was previously on the faculties of Georgetown University School of Dentistry, Temple University Dental School, and University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Dr. Robbins is a member of the Board of Directors of the Associates for Biblical Research.

About the time of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz there was a small village in the hill country of Benjamin, 8 mi north of Jerusalem. Located near the summit of the tallest mountain of the vicinity, today known as Jebel-et-Tawil (“The Long Mountain”), that village already had a long history. Many years before, prior to Israel’s entrance into the land, Canaanites lived there. And long after, during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, Jews returning from exile in Babylon resettled this town. While we are not certain of its name in antiquity, the Arabic name today is Khirbet Nisya, “Forgotten Ruins.”

Israelite Burial Discovered

Also forgotten, at the foot of the site near a spring, lay a cave. Apparently unknown and untouched by man for the last 3, 200 years, it was rediscovered by archaeologists from the Associates for Biblical Research in 1985. A natural limestone cave, it contained the remains of numerous inhabitants of the site, ancient Khirbet Nisyans. Utilized over a period of a century or so, this was a family tomb. Roughly “L” shaped, the cave extended about 23 ft along one side and about 16 ft along the other. Its height varied, but averaged only about 3 ft.

These ancient people, most likely Israelites, buried their dead by placing the body on the floor of the cave without being covered by earth or in a coffin of any kind. They were laid to rest with a variety of funerary objects, usually simple domestic pottery, but sometimes with luxury items like jewelry and weapons. Later, when another body was brought for burial, the remains of the last body were pushed to the side of the cave. Consequently, the cave was turned into a cemetery. This practice became the basis of the Biblical phrase referring to the death of an individual, “he was gathered unto his fathers.”

Over the centuries, the numerous burial remains in the Khirbet Nisya cave were scattered and mixed, probably due to animal activity. Bones and funerary offerings of one individual were mixed with those of others buried before and after.

The domestic pottery found in the cave had deteriorated due to the damp envirnment. But a surprising number of luxury items, including beads, toggle pins, rings and bracelets were also recovered. On the basis of similar...

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