Trained to analyze ancient carnage, archaeologists locate victims among kibbutz ashes

Israel Antiquities Authority says remains of 10 people found in ‘heartrending and unfathomable’ effort to sift through burned homes in Be’eri, Kfar Aza, Nir Oz and elsewhere

Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority join the efforts to search for missing persons in the houses and cars that were incinerated in Hamas's October 7, 2023 massacre. (Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority)
Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority join the efforts to search for missing persons in the houses and cars that were incinerated in Hamas's October 7, 2023 massacre. (Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Archaeologists who have joined IDF efforts to identify victims of Hamas’s October 7 massacre say they have uncovered the remains of at least 10 people in houses burned during the grisly onslaught.

In an announcement Tuesday, the Israel Antiquities Authority said that since joining the effort two weeks ago, its archaeologists had helped authorities identify 10 men, women and children previously thought missing.

Using techniques from their experience in excavations of burnt and destroyed ancient sites, the archaeologists have been combing and sieving ash from burnt houses in Be’eri, Kfar Aza and Nir Oz, three kibbutzim devastated in the attacks. They have also examined the contents of cars from an outdoor festival where Hamas terrorists slaughtered 260 people.

At least 1,400 people were murdered and over 240 taken hostage when some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea on October 7. The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians — including babies, children and the elderly. Terrorists executed and tortured victims in horrific acts of brutality, and set fire to homes where families hid in locked safe rooms, burning them alive.

The effort to uncover and identify remains of the victims of the attack has been ongoing over the past month, with search and rescue volunteers from the ZAKA organization joining the IDF effort to comb the affected areas. Maj. Shlomo Hazut, rabbi of the Gaza Division of the IDF, is directing the task, which aims to provide answers for families still waiting to hear the fate of their loved ones. Identification of remains has been particularly difficult since bodies were mutilated after death and homes were burned to the ground. Adding to the uncertainty is the confusion over  how many people have been abducted.

“It is one thing to expose 2,000-year-old destruction remains, and quite another thing — heartrending and unfathomable — to carry out the present task searching for evidence of our sisters and brothers” in the devastated communities, the IAA said in the statement.

“Taking into account all the difficulty and the emotional challenges involved, our hope is that we can contribute to the certain identification for as many families as possible, regarding the fate of their loved ones,” said Eli Escusido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Of the remains of at least 10 victims who have been identified, some have since been buried, while other pieces of evidence were taken for further examination.

Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists join IDF efforts to search for remains of missing persons in the houses that were incinerated in Hamas’s October 7 massacre (Photo: Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority)

The Shura IDF camp next to Ramle has served as an overflow location for the effort as Israel’s National Center for Forensic Medicine (Abu Kabir) in Jaffa was unable to handle the immense number of remains from the attack.

In peacetime, Abu Kabir handles around 2,000 cases a year. By law, all deaths not by natural causes must be investigated there, including murder, manslaughter, deaths involving sexual assault, and suicide. A combination of methods are used to identify victims’ remains, including DNA testing, fingerprints and dental records.

Many remains have yet to be identified, and some are thought to belong to Hamas terrorists killed inside Israel, according to the police.

Renee Ghert-Zand contributed to this report

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