MODI'IN, Israel, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Researchers with the Israel Antiquities Authority have uncovered an ancient mausoleum they think may be the Tomb of the Maccabees.
For decades, excavators have been visiting Modi'in, a community between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv home to the famed archaeological site Horbat Ha-Gardi. Over time, rumors grew that the Maccabees were entombed among the ruins.
Over the last several weeks, researchers with the IAA have been looking into said rumors.
"The aim of the archaeological excavation was to determine if there is any substance to the legends and stories that have sprung up around the Horbat Ha-Gardi site, located a short distance from the city of Modi'in, and whose name is associated with the Tomb of the Maccabees," IAA spokeswoman Yoli Shwartz told reporters on Monday.
In a recent report published by IAA, researchers confirmed in the uniqueness of a burial site thought to be that of the Maccabees. But lead excavators, Amit Re'em and Dan Shachar, said there is currently not enough evidence to confirm the site as the famed Tomb of the Maccabees.
The Maccabees were a family -- including the father Mattathias, as well as Judah Maccabee and his four brothers -- who led an uprising of traditional, or Orthodox, Jews against Greek invaders and reforming Hellenistic Jews. The modern holiday of Hanukkah celebrates the rebels' re-dedication (or "purification") of the Second Temple. The Maccabean rebellion led to the founding of the Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled from 164 BCE to 63 BCE. The original Maccabees, several of whom were killed in the fighting, became martyrs.
The story of the Maccabees is described in several ancient religious texts, both Jewish and Christian, as well as by Roman historians.
More than 150 years ago, French archaeologist Charles Clermont-Ganneau discovered a mausoleum at the Horbat Ha-Gardi site, which resembled historic descriptions of the Tomb of the Maccabees. Despite the excitement generated by the initial discovery, Clermont-Ganneau eventually concluded that it was not the Tomb of Maccabees -- instead characterizing it as Christian in nature, as many of the structures and burial vaults were marked by the Christian cross.
Researchers say, however, that the site my be a monument to the Maccabean martyrs, erected near their original burial site by resident Christians. The Maccabees were considered saints by early Christians.
"There is no doubt that the structure was exposed is unusual," excavators Amit Re'em and Dan Shachar said in a statement released by the IAA. "Descriptions 150 years ago uncovered here in front of our eyes, we found the vaults luxurious, art tremendous held, probably, second floor, patio leads to the and buildings associated information."
But to sort out the truth of this buried history will require a lot more digging and analysis.
"The archaeological evidence currently at hand is still insufficient to establish that this is the burial place of the Maccabees," Amit Re'em and Dan Shachar concluded.
"If what we uncovered is not the Tomb of the Maccabees itself, then there is a high probability that this is the site that early Christianity identified as the royal funerary enclosure, and therefore, perhaps, erected the structure."