Cave 120 and three adjacent caves at Tel Lachish in southern Israel produced the largest concentration of human crania ever unearthed in the Near East. The conventional interpretation associates this deposit with primary burials of victims of the city’s destruction by King Sennacherib of Assyria in 701 BC. Taking into consideration attitudes to human skulls, site formation processes and taphonomic aspects, we indicate that these conclusions are incorrect. The caves contained mainly crania and almost completely lacked other skeletal material. The numerous morphological and morphometric studies carried out on the assemblage could not point to any standardized population. We conclude that large-scale quarrying of stones, probably for the construction of the city wall in the seventh century BC, destroyed a large number of older burial caves. The crania from these caves, each symbolizing a deceased person, were carefully collected and reburied.
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© 2022 The Authors. Oxford Journal of Archaeology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of University of Oxford.