Archaeologists uncover 3,600-year-old tomb that could shed new light on Biblical city

An aerial view of Megiddo in northern Israel is featured in this image.Wikimedia Commons/israeltourism

Archaeologists have found an untouched 3,600-year-old burial chamber that could offer some clues into the history of the ancient Canaanite city of Megiddo.

According to a report from National Geographic, the tomb, which contains human remains, as well as gold and other artifacts, was found adjacent to the late Middle Bronze Age palace of Megiddo and may have belonged to an elite family.

Megiddo, which is mentioned in the book of Revelation in the Bible, had served as an important strategic pass for international military and trade routes between 3000 B.C. to 1918.

In the past century, palaces, temples and city walls dating between 3300 and 586 B.C. have been found at the site.

The discovery of the burial chamber was made by an expedition that began in 1994 and was led by archaeologists Israel Finkelstein, Mario Martin of Tel Aviv University and Matthew Adams of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeology.

The researchers initially found cracks on the surface of the excavation site and saw dirt falling into an unseen structure, that was later found to be an underground passageway leading to the tomb.

The chamber reportedly contains the remains of a child between eight and 10 years old, a woman in her 30s and a man between 40 and 60. The bodies were adorned with gold and silver jewelry, including rings, brooches, bracelets and pins, and the male body had been crowned with a gold diadem.

"We are speaking of an elite family burial because of the monumentality of the structure, the rich finds and because of the fact that the burial is located in close proximity to the royal palace," Finkelstein said.

The archaeologists also found that other human remains had been interred at the tomb at an earlier point.

Melissa Cradic, an excavation team member and expert on ancient funerary rites in the region, noted that the first of two phases of ritual activity that took place at the chamber involved the burial of at least six individuals over a short span of time.

During the second phase, the remains of the six individuals were pushed to the back of the tomb in a jumble of bones, while the three newly deceased were buried in front of the chamber.

The experts are now conducting a broad DNA study on the individuals found inside the "royal" tomb as well as the bodies found in less elaborate burials from other domestic areas of the site.

Finkelstein believes that the ancient DNA results could reveal whether the "common" inhabitants of Megiddo were of the same background as the elite.

Megiddo's ruling class has captivated the interest of researchers since the discovery of a diplomatic correspondence with Egypt in the 14th century BC, which revealed that the king of Megiddo did not have a traditionally Canaanite name, but rather a Hurrian name: Birydia.

Scholars have long thought that Hurrians, a roving mountain people who emerged in the region in the fourth and third millennium B.C., eventually settled down and adopted cuneiform as a script. However, new excavations have found that an advanced culture and a distinctive language system have played a big part in building the first cities in the Near East.

Experts believe that the forthcoming DNA results may reveal the role of the Hurrians in running Canaanite city-states, and change the perception of the population of Canaan.

"These studies have the potential to revolutionize what we know about the population of Canaan, before the rise of the world of the Bible," said Finkelstein.