Jesus Christ's purported tomb dates back to Constantine era, new tests reveal

The purported tomb of Jesus Christ at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City dates back to the Constantine era, based on new scientific tests of the mortar sample taken from the structure's original limestone surface and marble slab covering.

(REUTERS / Ronen Zvulun)Candles are placed atop the newly restored tomb, which according to Christian belief is where Jesus's body was anointed and buried, inside the newly restored Edicule, the ancient structure housing the tomb, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City on March 20, 2017.

In October 2016, the tomb was opened after many centuries, and samples of mortar from within its Edicule were taken during the time. Based on the results of the scientific tests exclusively furnished to National Geographic, the samples dated to around A.D. 345, during the time of Rome's first Christian emperor Constantine.

The dating of the construction materials suggested that the holy site survived the attacks, fires, earthquakes, and destruction many years ago. After it was rebuilt, modern scholars doubted if the site could be the same purported burial place of Jesus Christ, but the new tests have confirmed that it was indeed previously a tomb that had been discovered by the Romans in ancient times. 

"Obviously that date is spot-on for whatever Constantine did," said archaeologist Martin Biddle. "That's very remarkable."

The testing of the mortar samples used a technique called optically stimulated luminescence which looked into when a quartz sediment was last exposed to light. Edicule restoration director Antonia Moropoulou and her team will be publishing the results in an issue of the "Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports."

Meanwhile, the National Geographic Museum in Washington has opened an exhibit of the purported tomb of Jesus Christ. Visitors can take a virtual journey to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre using 3D glasses and watch a short 3D film about the history of the structure, Fox 5 reported.

National Geographic Society president and CEO Gary E. Knell said the exhibit aims to give people a chance to visit the iconic Christian holy site with the help of visualizations and real scientific data.

The "Tomb of Christ: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre Experience" will be welcoming visitors until next August. The National Geographic Museum is open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.