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Biblical Archaeology Review 47:3, Fall 2021

Strata: Classical Corner: Encounters with Fossil Giants

By Steven FineElisha Fine

Visiting mandatory Palestine in 1934, the intrepid British physical anthropologist Dorothea M.A. Bate learned of huge bones discovered when a well was dug in what is now central Bethlehem. After visiting the site and collecting some fragments, she realized that they were the fossilized remains of an elephant—an extinct elephant. These were mammoth remains, tentatively dated to the Late Pliocene or Early Pleistocene era, and nearly three million years old!1 Remains of numerous huge prehistoric animals have been discovered in the Levant, including elephants (mammoths among them) and a giant rhinoceros.

Bate was not the first to discover huge bones in the Judean Hills. Nearly 2,000 years earlier, Flavius Josephus, the famous Jewish historian, noted giant bones uncovered in Hebron, 13 miles from Bethlehem. Josephus gave an account of the story of the conquest of Canaan, specifically Hebron, by the biblical Israelites under the command of Joshua:

So they [the Israelite army] moved their camp to Hebron, took capture of that town and massacred all therein. There remained there a race of giants, who, by reason of their huge frames and figures in no way like the rest of mankind, were an amazing spectacle and a tale of terror to the ear. Their bones are shown to this day, bearing no resemblance to any that have come within men’s ken.

Antiquities 5.125a

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