for National Geographic News
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Archaeologists exploring King Herod's tomb complex near Jerusalem have uncovered rare Roman paintings as well as two sarcophagi, or stone coffins, that could have contained the remains of Herod's sons.
In May 2007, veteran Hebrew University archaeologist Ehud Netzer solved one of Israel's great archaeological mysteries when he first uncovered the remains of Herod's first century-B.C. grave at the Herodium complex, located 9 miles (15 kilometers) south of Jerusalem.
(See related: "King Herod's Tomb Unearthed Near Jerusalem, Expert Says" [May 8, 2007].)
King Herod, appointed by the Romans to rule Judea between 37 and 4 B.C., 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 and lavish administrative, residential, and burial center.
Netzer revealed new discoveries at a Wednesday press conference in Jerusalem.
Recent excavations uncovered an elaborate theater dating slightly earlier than Herod's burial complex that had been demolished to enable construction of the artificial mountain that served as his tomb.
The walls of the theater's loggia—a balcony that served as a VIP room and viewing box—are decorated with well-preserved Roman paintings of windows and outdoor scenes.
The style of the paintings has not been seen before in the Middle East, according to Netzer, who has been working amid Herod's ruins since the 1960s, at times with funding from the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)
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