• Weird History

Experts Have One Piece Of Archaeological Evidence That Crucifixion Really Happened

Crucifixion is a punishment as historically notorious as it is religiously significant; however, it continues to be one of the most mysterious methods of execution from antiquity, primarily due to the fact that no physical evidence of the practice had ever been found for millenia after the death of Jesus Christ. In fact, the only descriptions of it were found in art and literature from the era. Where was the physical evidence of crucifixion?

This all changed in 1968, when archaeologists discovered a stone box hidden away in a tomb located in northeastern Jerusalem. Inside the box were the remains of a Jewish man named Yehohanan, but what was particularly astounding about this man was that his heel bone appeared to have a thick nail driven through it – something that could prove that the man had been crucified. That's right – a single bone is the only existing physical evidence that crucifixion ever took place. Even more curious, perhaps, was that the body of a young boy was also found inside the box.

The fact that the nail was driven through the man's heel suggests that everything we thought we knew about crucifixion was wrong, and, in many ways, this discovery has generated more questions than answers.

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  • This Evidence Means Biblical Paintings Are Wrong About Crucifixions

    Photo: Tjflex2 / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    In addition to the discovery that a person's heels were nailed onto the sides of the cross, the evidence gained from the remains debunks the most common religious depictions of crucifixion. Rather than having their palms nailed to the crossbeam, crucified criminals actually had their wrists bound around the top of the horizontal beam, leaving them to gradually asphyxiate due to the additional strain on the muscles used to breathe.

    • There Are Some Pretty Good Reasons For Why So Little Evidence Exists

      Photo: Friedrich Pacher / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

      Though crucifixion was likely first developed by Assyrians and Babylonians, it gained popularity in the Roman Empire. In fact, this method of punishing and executing criminals and political prisoners became so commonplace that the lack of material evidence of the practice has consistently frustrated archeologists and historians throughout modern history.

      However, when looking at the purpose and method of crucifixion as a whole, it becomes a bit less surprising. The wood used to make the crosses, of course, is a soft organic material and quickly decomposes, so it is reasonable to expect that archeologists won't be digging up any intact crosses anytime soon. As for the nails, experts believe that they were actually collected and used as amulets by individuals who believed that they had magical and medicinal qualities. Lastly, more often than not, the individuals forced to endure this slow, painful execution were criminals being used as an example, so the burying of their bodies afterward was not of grave concern to officials or citizens. As a result, most of their remains were likely left to decompose out in the open or in trash piles.