King Herod's Tomb Unearthed Near Jerusalem, Expert Says

Mati Milstein in Jersualem
for National Geographic News
May 8, 2007

The tomb of King Herod the Great has been found on the sun-bleached slope of a desert mountain near Jerusalem, an Israeli archaeologist announced today.

Hebrew University professor Ehud Netzer and colleagues say they solved one of Israel's great archaeological mysteries by unearthing the remains of Herod's grave, sarcophagus, and mausoleum at the Herodium complex. (See a photo gallery of the finds.)

Most scholars had assumed Herod, who ruled Judea between 37 and 4 B.C., was buried at the Herodium complex, but his final resting place had remained undiscovered until now. The site lies about 6 miles (15 kilometers) south of modern-day Jerusalem.

King Herod is renowned for his monumental construction projects, including the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, the Caesarea complex, and the palace atop Masada. Herod constructed Herodium as a massive administrative, residential, memorial, and burial center.

The site's unique character and other finds at the Herodium prove without a doubt that this is Herod's burial site, Netzer said at a press conference.

An Ornate Tomb

The king's highly ornamented, 8-foot (2.5-meter) sarcophagus, crafted of red-colored limestone with rosettes on its sides, had been shattered. Hundreds of fragments have been found around the site, but no inscriptions have been discovered so far. (Related: "What Disease Killed King Herod?" [January 28, 2002]).

The style and design of the sarcophagus found at the Herodium is extremely rare. Only a handful of others have been uncovered in Israel, all in elaborate tombs apparently belonging to prominent personalities, such as the King's Tomb on Salah a-Din Street in Jerusalem.

"It's a sarcophagus we don't just see anywhere," Netzer said. "It is something very special."

The sarcophagus and other structures at the Herodium were likely destroyed during the first Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire between A.D. 66 and 72.

The Jewish rebels despised Herod, calling him a puppet appointed by Judea's Roman rulers. The destruction was probably an expression of hatred or revenge, Netzer said. (See a historical overview of the time period.)

No human remains have been found in or near the tomb, and the skeleton of Herod himself will probably never be recovered, he added.

Continued on Next Page >>


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