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Samples taken of the Jerusalem tomb where Jesus Christ reportedly was buried after his crucifixion are more than 1,700 years old, dating it back to the imperial Roman era, according to new test results that bring scientists a step closer to determining whether Jesus was actually laid to rest at the site.
The tomb is located in one of the world’s holiest sites for Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City.
"It marks the site of the crucifixion, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus Christ according to Christian tradition," said Kristen Romey, archaeology editor for National Geographic.
Scientists opened the tomb for the first time in centuries in October 2016 when a team from the National Technical University of Athens conducted a restoration effort on the shrine that enclosed the tomb.
Pieces of mortar taken from the original limestone burial bed and a marble slab that covers it date back to AD 345, according to test results provided to National Geographic and featured in the magazine’s December issue.
“We finally have scientific proof that this site, the tomb of Jesus Christ, one of the holiest sites in Christianity, has been unbroken for seventeen hundred years,” Romey said.
Violent attacks, fires and earthquakes have damaged both the tomb and the church over the centuries. The church was completely demolished about a thousand years ago, but subsequently rebuilt. That led modern scholars to speculate whether the site worshipped today as the tomb of Jesus Christ could possibly be the very same location that the Romans identified some 17 centuries ago.
Although it’s “archaeologically impossible to say that the tomb is the burial site of an individual Jew known as Jesus of Nazareth,” Romey said new dating results put the original construction of today's tomb complex securely in the time of Constantine, Rome's first Christian emperor.
National Geographic has built a 3-D replica of the site in its Washington, D.C., museum, allowing visitors to see the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and the table where his body was taken after being taken down from the cross.
National Geographic also debuts a documentary on the topic, “The Secrets of Christ's Tomb," this Sunday.