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The Ten Lost Tribes of Israel is a well-documented semi-historical legend in Jewish history, and appears in sources from a number of ancient cultures. The factual history however, seems to be shrouded in much confusion.

The best known fact is perhaps that the (Neo-)Assyrian empire deported much of the population of Ancient Israel (the northern part of modern Israel, rather than the southern part of Ancient Judah) eastwards when they conquered the kingdom. This is much myth surrounding this deportation and the eventual destination of these people, with many modern ethnic groups claiming descent (often with minimal to no evidence) from the Ten Lost Tribes. Rabbinic folklore is also a source here, but I do not think most historians would accept it.

My question is, does there exist any hard historical evidence as to the fate of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel? Does modern scholarly research put a figure on how many Israelites were deported from their homeland, if indeed it was significant? The later diaspora of Jews, during Roman and later Arab occupation, is generally much better documented, and led to Jews migrating away as far as India, China, and eventually the Americas. This ancient deportation by the Neo-Assyrians however, it what I am wondering about.

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Maybe I shall make it a comment, but it is not totally clear whether you mean (1) or (2):
(1) did 12 tribes exist or,
(2) yes we know 12 tribes existed, but where did 10 of those tribes disappear to?

Regarding issue (1), the answer is positive. Archeological excavations uncovered, within the territory of Israel, all 12 tribe-cities of all 12 tribes. I personally was on the excavated site of Dan, on the Dan river in the north of Israel. So regarding the pre-existance of 12 tribes, archeology says yes. This is a really fascinating archeological finding. It was facilitated by the fact that Bibles give exact or approximate places where the tribe-cities were located, and in many cases, topological names remained the same as given in the Bible. You can look up books about "Bible and archaeology", there are amazing books on this topic, or you can travel to Israel to visit those places.

Much more debate (and fantasies) were generated by issue (2) -- where they disappeared to.

Apparently they suffered intermixing and loss of identity. With the stengthening of central power in ancient Israel, boundaries between the tribes were becoming weaker and people intermixed. It is not really clear whether they intermixed with the rest of Israel, or outside (assimilation) during deporatation, or were they killed or enslaved during deportations.

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Oh no, I thought it was obvious I was only asking about the 10 tribes, hence the question title. :-) But thank you for providing the historical quote anyway; I wasn't aware of it. The answer to the second question is as vague as I expected, though I was hoping someone might have some specifics to dig out of some obscure research paper! :-) –  Noldorin Oct 15 '11 at 0:30
    
@Noldorin: There have been wild theories about the 10 tribes but - well, this isn't the site for wild theories. –  Wladimir Palant Oct 18 '11 at 15:14
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+1 Every time it comes up in a sermon, my pastor makes sure to say they were deported to Assyria and "became so intermixed with their captors that they ceased to exist as a separte people". I think he's not a big fan of the "lost tribe" cults. :-) –  T.E.D. Apr 6 '12 at 13:45
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