JERUSALEM: Following a long quest in search of King Herod’s tomb, an archaeologist announced Tuesday that he found what appears to be the ornate remains of the famous Roman era king’s burial site on the edge of the Judean Desert.
Ehud Netzer, a Hebrew University archaeologist, said he knew he solved the puzzle of Herod’s grave when his team uncovered pieces of a large sarcophagus made of pinkish Jerusalem limestone and decorated with expertly carved floral motifs among the remains of a mausoleum on the site appointed as the ancient king’s burial grounds.
“The location and unique nature of the findings, as well as the historical record, leave no doubt that this was Herod’s burial site,” Netzer said. He did point out, however, that no inscriptions had been found on the site that would more definitively verify that this was in fact the tomb of Herod, who ruled Judea on behalf of Rome from 37 to 4 B.C.
Netzer had been excavating the site of Herodium, a palace complex 11 kilometers, or seven miles, south of Jerusalem and in the West Bank, since 1972 with the goal of unearthing the various buildings on the site and the tomb itself. But until an early morning almost three weeks ago, the precise site of the tomb had eluded him.
An account by the historian Josephus Flavius told of the king’s elaborate funeral procession to the site of Herodium, but he did not mention where the tomb itself was located.
Herodium was one of Herod’s many architectural masterpieces in the Holy Land, and according to some, his finest work. For a man of great ego and architectural vision, this was the place he had chosen to be buried and memorialized.
The celebrated builder was responsible for the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the desert fortress of Masada, as well as building up the port city of Caesarea and other major projects.
Netzer uncovered a flight of stairs leading to the slope on the edge of the hillside where Herod is presumably buried. He said the staircase would have been part of the route of the elaborate funeral procession planned by Herod himself.
Flavius described the procession as attended by relatives, soldiers from across the ancient world dressed for war and hundreds of attendants carrying spices. He said the king’s body was covered in a purple shroud and carried on a bier of solid gold bejeweled with precious stones.
The sarcophagus with its triangular cover decorated on all sides was a unique specimen, Netzer said. Its remains were still clearly identifiable although it had been smashed into pieces, probably, he said, by Jewish rebels fighting between the years 66 to 72 A.D., decades after the king’s death.
Some of the rebels who were fighting to topple Roman rule were still angry with Herod, for being, they claimed, a puppet of the empire.
“Herod was a great king, but he had a lot of enemies,” said Yaakov Kalman, an archaeologist working with Netzer who was there the morning the sarcophagus was found.
As for the lack of firm proof that the find is Herod’s tomb, he said, “You cannot say that it is 100 percent it until you find something written ‘Herod,’ but all the facts show it’s the one.”