Archaeologists believe a mausoleum unearthed near the ancient city of Modi'in in Israel could yet prove to be the long-lost tomb of the Maccabees, a Jewish family which led the uprising against Greek rule in the second century BC.

The Israel Antiquities Authority has been conducting an excavation of what is known as the Horbat Ha-Gardi site to determine whether stories claiming it is the location of the tomb of the Maccabees are true.

The Maccabees - initially led by Mattathias (also known as Matityahu) and his five sons - were the leaders of a Jewish rebel army which seized control of Judea from Greek rule in the mid second century BC. They re-dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem (an event celebrated in the Jewish festival of Hanukkah each year) and established the independent Hasmonean dynasty which ruled Judea until Rome made it a client kingdom in 63 BC.

Their tomb is described in both the Book of Maccabees - contained in the Apocrypha - and The Antiquities of the Jews, written by Josephus Flavius. It is described as a tall, colonaded structure with pyramid-like roofing which overlooked the sea.

The Horbat Ha-Gardi site has attracted the interest of archaeologists and scholars for at least 150 years. Previous excavations there had revealed an imposing mausoleum which featured large pillars supporting stone slabs, probably the floor of a second story. Burial vaults were found at the base of the structure. The recent excavations have once again unearthed the mausoleum.

Amit Re’em and Dan Shahar, who are directing the excavation on behalf of the IAA, said in a statement that while the archaeological evidence unearthed so far was "still insufficient to establish that this is the burial place of the Maccabees", if the mausoleum was not the tomb 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". They said "a lot of hard work" was still required to the solve the "riddle" and that in the meantime, the "search for the elusive Tomb of the Maccabees continues".

~ www.antiquities.org.il