3,600-Year-Old Tomb Found Next to Canaanite Palace Might Contain Remains of Royal Family

Archaeologists have been searching the site of Megiddo for more than 100 years

Megiddo .jpg
An aerial view of Meggido, now called Tell el-Mutesellim, where researchers have recently discovered the burial chamber of a royal or elite family. Itamar Grinberg/Wikimedia Commons

Archaeologists and scientists have searched the site of Megiddo for clues into history for more than 100 years.

Located in northern Israel, the ancient Canaanite city was situated along a major trade and military route and was the site of several battles that helped change the course of history. It was also called Armageddon, which in the Bible is the city where it is said armies will gather for battle during the end times. Today it is known as Tell el-Mutesellim.

In the past century, researchers there have found palaces, temples and city walls dating between 3300 and 586 B.C.

Now, they’ve found an untouched tomb that’s 3,600 years old containing human remains, as well as gold and other artifacts. Even more astonishing: The tomb was found adjacent to the royal palace of Megiddo and may have belonged to an elite family, reports Philippe Bohström for National Geographic.

According to Bohström, the discovery was made by an expedition that’s been excavating the site since 1994. It was led by archaeologists Israel Finkelstein and Mario Martin of Tel Aviv University and Matthew Adams of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeology.

As they left no written records, very little has been known about Canaanites, who ruled the Near East 4,000 years ago.

But the latest finding of the burial chamber was a surprise for archaeologists. Researchers had noticed cracks on the surface of the excavation site, and dirt was falling into an unseen structure below. In 2016, they found it was an underground passageway leading to the tomb.

The tomb contained the remains of a child between 8 and 10 years old, a woman in her 30s and a man between 40 and 60 years old. They wore gold and silver rings, brooches, bracelets, and pins, and the man wore a gold necklace. Ceramic vessels from Cyprus and stone jars, possibly from Egypt, were also found.

This, and the fact that the burial chamber was next to the royal palace of Megiddo first discovered in the 1930s, suggests the three individuals were a royal or elite family, Bohström wrote.

“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 tells Bohström.

Researchers are now working on an analysis of the individuals’ DNA, including those from the royal tomb and from other areas of the excavation site, that will help reveal whether residents of the city were of the same background as the royals.

“These studies have the potential to revolutionize what we know about the population of Canaan before the rise of the world of the Bible,” Finkelstein tells Bohström.

In the tomb, other human remains were also found.

Melissa Cradic, a member of the excavation team and an expert on the region's ancient burial rites, tells Bohström that the tomb saw two phases of “ritual activity.” In the first phase, six individuals were buried over a short period of time. During the second phase, the bones from the six people were pushed to the back of the tomb, making way for the three new individuals to be placed at the front.

The “royal family” uncovered by the researchers made up the second phase, Cradic says, but they were likely related to the first group of people buried there because they wore identical jewelry and pins.

"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,” she says.

Researchers are analyzing the bones to confirm whether the people were related.