Scientists have discovered that the tomb in which Jesus Christ is believed to have been buried after his crucifixion is significantly older than previously known. According to National Geographic, archaeologists tested a sample of mortar taken from a limestone tomb beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and found the cave dates back 345 CE. Previous evidence had indicated that the cave, the oldest architectural structure on site, was built during the Crusader period, around 1000 CE. According to historical records, the tomb is thought to have been rediscovered, after a period of obscurity, by the Romans in 326 CE. This rediscovery occurred during the reign of Constantine, the Roman leader who converted the Empire to Christianity.
The recent discovery was made possible by the tomb’s opening on October 26, 2016. Within the tomb, scientists were surprised to discover an older, fractured marble slab, which rested on the original limestone surface of the “burial bed,” where it is believed that Jesus’s body was placed. Some researchers suspected that this older marble may have been placed during the Crusader Period, while others believed that the slab may have been even older. Upon further testing, it was determined that the slab dated back to Constantine-era Jerusalem. In order to determine the tomb’s age, scientists analyzed chemicals found within the slab to determine how long it is has been since they were last exposed to light. It was also discovered that a significant portion of the tomb remains sealed off.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the caves below it have undergone great changes over the millennia. Following the discovery and reconstruction of the tomb in the 4th century, the Church was completely destroyed in 1099, then subsequently rebuilt. This destruction led scientists to question whether the site could ever be conclusively identified as the location, as determined by the Constantine-era Romans, of Christ’s tomb. While there is no archaeological evidence to suggest that the historical Jesus of Nazareth was buried in the tomb, the recent discoveries help to clarify the complex history surrounding Christianity’s holiest shrine.