- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2007

2:41 p.m.

HERODIUM, West Bank — An Israeli archaeologist said today that he has found the tomb of King Herod, the legendary builder of the walls surrounding ancient Jerusalem, on a flattened hilltop in the Judean Desert where the biblical monarch built a palace.

Hebrew University archaeologist Ehud Netzer said the tomb was found at Herodium, where he has been exploring since the 1970s. The site has long been believed to be Herod’s burial ground.

Mr. Netzer said a team of researchers found pieces of a limestone sarcophagus believed to belong to the ancient king.

Although there were no bones in the container, he said the sarcophagus’s location and ornate appearance indicated it was Herod’s.

The university said the sarcophagus, which was discovered broken into hundreds of pieces, would have been about 9 feet long. It was made from reddish Jerusalem limestone and decorated with rosettes.

“It’s a sarcophagus we don’t just see anywhere,” Mr. Netzer said at a press conference. “It is something very special.”

Mr. Netzer led the team, although he said he was not on the site when the sarcophagus was found three weeks ago.

Stephen Pfann, an expert in the Second Temple period at the University of the Holy Land, called the find a “major discovery by all means,” but cautioned that further research is needed.

He said all signs indicate the tomb belongs to Herod, but said ruins with an inscription on it were needed for full verification.

“We’re moving in the right direction. It will be clinched once we have an inscription that bears his name,” said Mr. Pfann, a textual scholar who did not participate in Mr. Netzer’s dig.

The fragments of carved limestone found at the sandy site are decorated with floral motifs but do not include any inscriptions.

In a press release, the university said that the site was destroyed during the Jewish revolt against the Romans in A.D. 66-72 and that the tomb was smashed.

Fragments were found scattered around the area, apparently on purpose. The Jewish rebels considered Herod a puppet of the Romans.

Herod became the ruler of the Holy Land under the Romans around 40 B.C. Parts of the wall he built around the Old City of Jerusalem during the time of the Jewish Second Temple — and later augmented by 16th-century Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent — can be seen today. He also undertook massive construction projects in Caesaria, Jericho, the hilltop fortress of Massada and other locations.

It has long been assumed that Herod was buried at Herodium, but decades of excavations failed to turn up the site until now. The first century historian Josephus Flavius described the tomb and Herod’s funeral procession.

“The bier was of solid gold, studded with precious stones, and had a cover of purple, embroidered with various colors; on this lay the body enveloped in a purple robe, a diadem encircling the head and surmounted by a crown of gold, the scepter beside his right hand,” Josephus wrote, in a text provided by the university.

However, Josephus did not describe the site of the tomb.

Herodium was one of the last strong points held by Jewish rebels fighting against the Romans, and it was conquered and destroyed by Roman forces in A.D. 71, a year after they destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

Hebrew University had hoped to keep the find a secret until Mr. Netzer’s press conference today, but the university announced the find in a brief statement late yesterday after the Haaretz daily published an article about the discovery on its Web site.

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