A tomb that, according to legend, held the body of Jesus Christ dates back almost 1,700 years, scientific tests show.
Whether the tomb ever truly held the body of Jesus is unknown. The limestone bed dates to almost 300 years after the death of Jesus. Additionally, a number of other sites claim to also hold the "tomb of Jesus."
The tomb of Jesus is covered by a shrine (sometimes called the Edicule) located within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. According to legend, Helena, the mother of Roman emperor Constantine the Great (reign ca. 306-337), discovered the tomb around the year 327. Constantine legalized Christianity throughout the Roman Empire and supposedly converted to Christianity before he died. The legend says the Romans protected the tomb of Jesus by building a shrine over it as well as a church. This church has been destroyed, renovated and rebuilt several times over the past 1,700 years. [See Photos of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre]
Today, the shrine that covers the tomb is in poor shape and is in danger of collapse. To help save it, a team that includes scientists supported by the National Geographic Society has been conducting conservation work in the shrine and its tomb. During this work, the archaeologists opened the tomb of Jesus for the first time in centuries — it has been sealed with marble slabs since at least A.D. 1555 to prevent damage from visitors — and excavated the tomb. They found the remains of what appears to be a limestone bed that, as legend says, may have held the body of Jesus.
Tests using a technique called optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) of mortar from the limestone bed revealed when the quartz within the masonry was last exposed to light. The results showed that the bed was constructed around A.D. 345, during or shortly after the reign of Constantine the Great. The test results were released today (Nov. 28) by the National Geographic Society.
"Obviously, that date is spot-on for whatever Constantine did," archaeologist Martin Biddle, who has studied the tomb extensively, told National Geographic.
Today, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a site of pilgrimage for Christians.
A study reporting the test results will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. When the conservation work is complete, scientists hope that the marble cladding that hid the tomb will be replaced with a material that will allow visitors to see inside the tomb.
Original article on Live Science.
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Owen Jarus is a regular contributor to Live Science who writes about archaeology and humans' past. He has also written for The Independent (UK), The Canadian Press (CP) and The Associated Press (AP), among others. Owen has a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Toronto and a journalism degree from Ryerson University.