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Notebook Science

Big reveal

Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)






Big reveal

Archaeologists uncover surface of Jesus’ traditional tomb

According to the Bible, after Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea placed his body in his own rock-hewn tomb. For centuries many Christians have considered a site enclosed within an 18th-century shrine inside Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre to be the most likely location of that tomb.

Now, a conservation team from the National Technical University of Athens has unsealed the tomb for the first time since at least 1555. To their surprise they found the original limestone cave walls and the burial bed still intact, despite centuries of damage and the reconstruction of the church that surrounds it.

The researchers carefully measured and documented the surface of the exposed burial bed before resealing it in late October. They expect to study those measurements over the next few years as they search for clues to the site’s history and authenticity. Conservationists are also performing extensive restoration work on the shrine.

According to the National Geographic Society, which supported the work, Constantine, a Roman emperor and Christian convert, sent representatives to Jerusalem around A.D. 325 to locate the tomb of Jesus. Locals reportedly pointed them to a temple built by the Roman emperor Hadrian 200 years earlier. Historical sources suggest Hadrian built the temple over the tomb to assert the dominance of Rome’s state religion.

The Roman temple was eventually razed and the tomb excavated. A church was built to enclose the tomb, but Fatimid Muslim rulers destroyed it in 1009. It was rebuilt several decades later. Twentieth-century excavations inside the church exposed what is believed to be Hadrian’s temple and the walls from Constantine’s original church.

Experts have identified more than 1,000 rock-cut tombs in the area (including the popular “Garden Tomb”), but Dan Bahat, the former city archaeologist of Jerusalem, thinks the traditional site is still the most likely candidate for Jesus’ burial place.

“We may not be absolutely certain that the site of the Holy Sepulchre Church is the site of Jesus’ burial, but we certainly have no other site that can lay a claim nearly as weighty,” he told National Geographic.

Seeing red

Do you wonder why your children disdain broccoli and green beans but delight in apples and strawberries? According to a study published in Scientific Reports in November, it may partly be because we respond first to the color of a food—and prefer red over green. The researchers measured the reactions of 68 volunteers as they viewed color photographs of food and nonfood items. They found that the volunteers were much more motivated by red foods than green ones. Volunteers also attributed red foods with providing more energy. —J.B.

Eyes to the skies

In 1998 Hollywood entertained moviegoers with two science fiction disaster films, Deep Impact and Armageddon, that both involved impending doom from a celestial body slamming into Earth.

NASA doesn’t think such an event belongs solely in the realm of science fiction, though. Last month NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency presented the third in a series of simulated exercises meant to assist the science community in predicting the impact of a meteoroid, estimating the number of people that would need evacuation, and calculating the effect on infrastructure.

“It’s not a matter of if—but when—we will deal with such a situation,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, the head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, in a statement.

Former simulations involved plans to move an asteroid off a collision course with Earth, but the new hypothetical scenario involved an impact time too short for deflection—and necessitated a mass evacuation of Los Angeles. —J.B.