Archaeologists Slam Plan to Rebuild Herod's Tomb

The plan, promoted by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Gush Etzion Regional Council, includes rebuilding the tomb of Herod the Great in West Bank.

A plan to rebuild King Herod's tomb at Herodion, southeast of Jerusalem, is sparking objections from leading archaeologists. The plan is being promoted by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Gush Etzion Regional Council, and focuses on reconstructing the original grand mausoleum out of lightweight plastics and turning it into a visitors center.

This would be an unusual step never undertaken before at any excavation site in Israel, whose managers usually make do with installing miniature models of the historic buildings or partially recreating the sites using original materials found there.

The tomb was uncovered some five years ago by the archaeologist Ehud Netzer, who died as the result of a fall at the site in October 2010. Before his death, Netzer was able to recreate the grand structure, which soared to a height of 25 meters and had a cone-shaped roof. A four-meter tall model of the structure was built at a cost of NIS 50,000 and installed at the site last week.

"It's crazy. Archaeology is not Disneyland," said a senior archeologist who chose to remain anonymous. "You don't take an archaeological site and make a joke out of it."

Prof. Haim Goldfus, head of the archaeology department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, added: "Herodion is impressive in its own right, and the new structure will just distract attention away from the real thing. A public committee should be formed to decide on such a move."

Prof. Gideon Foerster, who managed the excavations at Herodion together with Netzer, noted that the drafting of the tomb model based on the findings has yet to be completed. Beyond that, other archeologists doubted the definitive identification of the tomb's location.

However Shaul Goldstein, recently appointed head of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, is trying to persuade archaeologists that reconstructing the building in its original dimensions will not damage the existing findings. Goldstein started pushing the project while he was still head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council. He also served as chairman of the Herodion site steering committee, and managed to secure funding for the project from the Ministry of Tourism and the National Heritage Site program.

Goldstein rejected outright the criticisms voiced by the archaeologists. "Disneyland attracts 50,000 people every day," he said. "I oppose the distortion of history, but support an approach where it is possible to recreate the site and leave an opening for the imagination. I also propose filling the pool beneath Herodion with water, so that it will be possible to understand Herod's wealth and the power of the period."

King Herod ruled the Kingdom of Judah during the first century BCE and died in 4 CE. Among other things, he is credited with refurbishing the Second Temple and the construction of Caesarea and Masada.

Goldstein added that he visited the Shivta National Park near Nitzana and came away with a negative impression of the ruins at this archaeological site. "It takes a lot of imagination to understand what happened at the site. After all, it is possible to show what a two-story building looked like in the ancient world. When you have a pile of stones, the visitor doesn't understand what is there. Caesarea and Beit She'an are attractive sites because they are well preserved."