Archaeologists announced a rare discovery last week of a 3,700 year old burial chamber in Megiddo that was used for Canaanite royalty. Remarkably, the wealth and human remains survived untouched until this day.
“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 Israel Finkelstein, director of the dig, in an interview with National Geographic.
The burial chamber lies in an archaeological site Megiddo that is 19 miles south of Haifa. The site was important in ancient times as it overlooked the Jezreel Valley, a major trade route until the 20th century.
As one of the more important archaeological sites in Israel, Megiddo has been investigated by scientists for 115 years, producing a plethora of finds. Palaces, temples, and city walls from the Bronze and Iron Ages (3300-586 BCE) have been discovered at the site.
The area of the discovery of the burial chamber had been explored since 1930, but in recent years, archaeologists began to notice cracks that were forming in an excavation area adjacent to the Bronze Age palaces. The dirt appeared to be falling into an underground cavity. The cause of the disturbance became clear in 2016 when archaeologists discovered a subterranean corridor leading to a burial chamber.
The chamber contained the undisturbed remains of three individuals—a child between the ages of eight and ten, a woman in her mid 30’s and a man aged within the age-span of 40 to 60 years old. The bodies were adorned with gold and silver jewelry including rings, brooches, bracelets and pins. The male’s remains were discovered with a gold necklace and a gold diadem crown.
All of the objects demonstrated a high level of skill and artistry. Finkelstein believes that the remains which were discovered in the burial chamber belonged to members of the royal family.
“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 explained in his interview with National Geographic.
Along with jewelry, the tomb contained ceramic vessels from Cyprus and stone jars that may have been imported from Egypt, pointing to Megiddo’s role as a trade center between ancient Egypt and Assyria.
It also appears that the chamber was used for burial several times at different periods.
Melissa Cradic, an excavation team member and expert on ancient funerary rites in the region, explains that the tomb had been used in two separate phases. The first time the cave was used for burial was for at least six individuals who were buried over a short span of time. Much later, these remains were pushed to the back of the tomb in a jumble of bones. The three newly deceased individuals were then placed in the front of the chamber.
Based on the similarities of the artifacts and the jewelry adorning the remains, the researchers believe there was a connection between the people buried at the site. They suggest that the burials were for separate generations from the same family or for members of the same social group.
“However, the final three were probably of special importance based on the high quantity and exceptional richness of their grave goods, as well as the fact that their bodies were not disturbed after burial,” Cradic suggested, according to National Geographic.
Rachel Kalisher, a bioarchaeologist who is conducting analysis on the bones, told National Geographic that there is evidence pointing to there having been a genetic bone or blood disorder in the remains of individuals from both periods when the tomb was used, suggesting the individuals buried may be related.
Finkelstein said that they are conducting a broad DNA on human remains discovered at the tomb as well as from other areas of the site. Finkelstein believes the results could reveal whether the inhabitants of the Canaanite city-state were of the same ethnic background as the elite.