Herod the Great’s Tomb May Not Be His

Herod
Wikimedia Commons

Israel is a country filled with ancient sites. One of the more popular ones to visit is the Herodium, the palace of the infamous Herod the Great, now part of a national park just outside Jerusalem. Herod was a lavish builder and created quite the crib between 23-15 BC. The historian Josephus, writing half a century after Herod’s death, says that when the king died in 4 BC, he was laid out on a gold bed in a tomb at the site.

Back in 2007, an archaeological team uncovered a tomb at Herodium and proclaimed they had found Herod’s final resting place. Ever since it’s been a popular stop for tourists who wander about the ruins of the palace, baths, and synagogue of the Jewish king who pledged allegiance to the Roman Empire.

Now another group of archaeologists say that it’s not the tomb of Herod. They say the 32×32 ft. tomb is too small for a king, especially one famous for his grandiose building projects such as the desert fortress Masada and the rebuilding of the Second Temple. Most royal tombs were larger and included coffins of marble or gold rather than the local limestone found in this structure. Royal tombs also had large courtyards in front of them so people could come pay their respects, something lacking in the Herodium tomb.The researchers suggest it was the tomb of one of Herod’s family.

Archaeologists have been quick to discover the tombs of famous people in recent years. The discoveries of the tombs of Caligula and the Apostle Philip have both been disputed. Now it appears that Herod will return to the long list of famous people for whom their final resting place remains a mystery.

Archaeologists Unearth Treasure-Filled Tomb In Peru

Archaeologists in Peru uncover lost tomb
Patrycja Przadka Giersz

It has been a busy couple of weeks for archaeologists across the globe. First, a team of researchers discovered a lost city in Cambodia and then a week later another team made a similar find in the jungles of Mexico. Not to be outdone, a group of archaeologists in Peru have unearthed a tomb filled with mummies and treasure that dates back to a pre-Incan civilization known as the Wari.

The thousand-year-old tomb is located approximately 185 miles north of Lima, not far from a dig that revealed two similar finds back in 2010. The burial chamber is located two meters below the Earth and was buried beneath 33 tons of gravel. It is believed to be the final resting place of three Wari princesses and the first undisturbed royal tomb from the Wari civilization. Because of the wealth that was contained within, the archaeologists who discovered the site toiled in secrecy for months fearing that if word got out about their discovery tomb raiders would surely strip it clean.

When they opened the tomb, the Peruvian and Polish archaeologists found 60 mummies sealed inside. The majority of those mummies were women and had been buried standing up, which belies their royal stature. Many of the mummies were wearing jewelry made of precious metals while well-preserved vases and wicker baskets filled with other treasures littered the floor at their feet. All told, more than 1200 silver, gold and ceramic objects were uncovered inside the royal tomb, which also contained pots, ceremonial knives and other more mundane objects that remain priceless in terms of cultural value.

The Wari people were a prosperous and powerful group of coastal dwellers who rose to power in northern Peru around 500 A.D. Internal strife seems to have taken its toll on the civilization, however, and by 800 A.D. they were already in decline. By 1000 A.D. the Wari were merely a shadow of their former self and shortly thereafter they all but disappeared from the region. Archaeological finds like this tomb are helping researchers to piece together more information about Wari culture, however, giving us a clearer vision of what life was like in Peru more than a thousand years ago.

Subway Workers In China Accidentally Demolish 3000-Year-Old Tombs

Guangzhou Subway
DruhScoff, Flickr

Workers installing a new subway line in Guangzhou, China’s third largest city, destroyed an ancient group of protected tombs by mistake during construction on the weekend. Some of the five tombs date back to the Shang Dynasty around 3,000 years ago.

The area, which had been set aside for further excavation and study, was intact on Friday night. When archaeologists returned to work on Saturday, the tombs had been obliterated.

The South China Morning Post reports that the group of tombs had been clearly marked and sealed off, and were of significant historical value. One of the metro project managers admitted that his workers had destroyed the group of tombs, but claimed the accidental destruction was due to a misunderstanding.

Representatives from the Guangzhou Archaeology Research Center contend it was impossible the construction workers could have missed the signs and plastic coverings marking the protected area.

This isn’t the first time ancient sites have been bulldozed in Guangzhou in recent times. Around 10 tombs have been destroyed during the construction of a new metro line. Numerous other historical buildings have been razed as well, usually without permission from authorities, as the city undergoes hurried expansion and development.

In part because of Guangzhou’s rapid development, more and more ancient sites have been discovered in recent years during surveying and excavation of new construction projects.

Famous Roman ‘Tomb’ May Have Actually Been A Temple

Roman, CarmonaAt the Roman necropolis in Carmona, Spain, visitors are led to the popular “Elephant’s Tomb,” a large underground chamber that gets its name from a crude sculpture of an elephant found there.

Now archaeologists are saying it may not be a tomb at all, but rather a temple to one of the ancient world’s most mysterious religions. A team from the University of Pablo de Olavide, Seville, has analyzed the structure and says it was once a mithraeum, an underground temple for the god Mithras.

Mithraism centered on secret rites centered on the mystical slaying of a bull was one of the most popular faiths in the last years of paganism. Several mithraeums are scattered about Europe, including in London, Mérida, and along Hadrian’s Wall.

The archaeologists point out that its general shape, with a columned, three-chambered room leading to an area for altars, is the same as other mithraeums. They also found astronomical alignments. Sunlight would hit the center of the chamber during the equinoxes, and during the winter and summer solstices, the sun would light up the north and south walls respectively. As the sun shines through the window during the spring equinox, Taurus rises to the East and Scorpio hides to the West. The opposite occurred during the autumn equinox. Taurus and Scorpio figure prominently in the religion’s astrological symbolism, with the God Mithras slaying a bull as a scorpion stings the animal’s testicles.

It was only later that the temple was turned into a burial chamber, researchers say.

Carmona is less than 20 miles from Seville and is a popular day trip from there.
Roman

[Top photo courtesy Daniel Villafruela. Bottom photo courtesy Henri de Boisgelin.]

London Crossrail Project Unearths Black Death Burial Pit

black death“Bring out your dead!”

If you lived in London in 1348-50, you’d hear that call a lot. All of Europe was swept with the Black Death, a virulent plague that killed an estimated one-third of the population. London, like other congested urban areas, got hit hard.

Now archaeologists working in London have uncovered a mass grave of Black Death victims, a Crossrail press release reports. Digging ahead of the planned London Crossrail transportation project, the team discovered a mass grave of 13 bodies at Charterhouse Square, an area known as a burial ground during the plague. Pottery from the mid-14th century found at the site helps confirm the identification.

The bodies were laid out neatly in rows, hinting that the burial ground was from the early stages of the Black Death. When the plague was going full force, bodies were simply dumped into giant pits.

Now archaeologists are examining the bones to learn more about how the people lived, including diet, physical health and work-related wear and tear on the body. They also hope to find surviving DNA from the plague to give scientists a better idea of how it developed. Researchers stress that the plague bacteria cannot live for long in the soil and the excavation poses no health risk.

This is only the latest in a series of finds by the Crossrail workers. Earlier we reported on their discovery of a 3,500-year-old Bronze Age trackway. The Crossrail project is a high-speed train system that will link 37 stations along 73 miles of track through London. It’s due to open in 2018.

Sadly, the 14th century plague was only the first wave of a persistent contagion. The Black Death returned to London several times, the worst being in 1665-6, when it killed 100,000 Londoners.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]