Last month, archaeologists in northern Israel unearthed a ground-breaking find associated with Armageddon, the site of the ultimate battle in the Bible book of Revelation. A hidden tomb sheds important light on the people who ruled Megiddo before the Egyptians defeated the city, and helps explain the significance of the city before the Jewish people settled into the area.
Located in the corridor between the ancient Near Eastern powers of Egypt, Hatti (in modern Turkey), Assyria, and Babylon, Megiddo had a pivotal central location that enabled it to become a rich trade hub. The surrounding area remained a strategic location for military and trade routes from 3000 B.C. to 1918 A.D. The site has witnessed numerous decisive battles that have altered the course of history.
“These studies have the potential to revolutionize what we know about the people of Canaan before the rise of the world of the Bible,” Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist with Tel Aviv University who helped lead the international exploration, told National Geographic.
Archaeologists have been digging at Megiddo (known today as Tell el-Mutesellim) for 115 years, but this team discovered a new tomb that sheds light on this city at the pivot of history. Finkelstein’s team, which has been excavating at the site since 1994, includes his Tel Aviv University colleague Mario Martin and Matthew Adams of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeology.
The newly uncovered tomb predates the earliest recorded battle in the history of the ancient Near East, when the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III besieged the city in the first half of the 15th century B.C. After a seven-month-long siege, the city surrendered and yielded to the pharaoh, who incorporated Canaan into his empire.
The tomb dated to the Middle Bronze Age, around 1700-1600 B.C., when the power of Canaanite Megiddo was at its peak. Archaeologists discovered the tomb after seeing cracks in the surface of an excavation area near the Bronze Age palaces discovered in the 1930s. Dirt appeared to be falling away into an undiscovered cavern below, Adams told National Geographic. In 2016, they discovered a subterranean corridor leading to a burial chamber.
Inside the tomb, the team discovered undisturbed remains of three people: a child between 8 and 10 years old, a woman in her mid-30s, and a man between the ages of 40 and 60. Each of the bodies had gold and silver jewelry, and the man’s body was discovered wearing a gold necklace and had been crowned with a gold diadem. All of the grave objects demonstrated a high level of skill and artistry.
“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 said.
The grave goods revealed the vast wealth of Megiddo and its pivotal trade position at the time. Along with the jewelry, archaeologists found ceramic vessels from Cyprus and stone jars that might have been imported from Egypt.
The tomb revealed a complex and highly stratified society, archaeologists argued. In addition to the three intact corpses, the team discovered other human remains which had been brushed aside.
Excavation team member Melissa Cradic told National Geographic that two phases of ritual activity took place in the newly discovered tomb. First, six people were buried over a short span of time. Later, the remains were pushed to the back of the tomb and three newly deceased people were placed in the front of the chamber.
Some types of jewelry found on the newer corpses — bronze bead anklets and metal pins — were identical to the artifacts found in the pile of bones at the back of the tomb. This similarity suggests a close social relationship between these two groups of people. Physical evidence for a possible genetic bone or blood disorder further suggested the two groups were related, bioarchaeologist Rachel Kalisher added.
“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,” Cradic said.
Scientists are carrying out a broad DNA study on many of the bones unearthed at Megiddo, both from this tomb and from other tombs in the area. These DNA tests could reveal whether the “common” inhabitants of the Canaanite city-state were of the same background as the elite, Finkelstein said.
Diplomatic correspondence with Egypt in the 14th century B.C., following the conquest by Thutmosis III, revealed that the king of Megiddo at the time did not have a Semitic name, but rather a Hurrian name, Birydia.
Scholars have held that the Hurrians were a roving mountain people who emerged in the region between the fourth and third millennium B.C., and eventually settled down and adopted the cuneiform script. New excavations of Hurrian cities have revealed an advanced culture with a distinct language and belief system that may have shaped the early cities and states of the ancient Near East.
This archaeological find also sheds light on why Saint John identified the final battle between good and evil in Revelation 16 with the site of Armageddon. Megiddo was a rich and powerful city, pride of the Canaanites before God helped the Jewish people to conquer Israel after the Exodus. Egypt’s conquest of the region, the rule of the Hurrians, and later battles throughout history make the site particularly meaningful as a symbol of pagan power and pivotal warfare.
The battle of Armageddon emerges in Revelation 16:12-19. In those verses, John describes seeing a sixth angel pour out a vial of God’s wrath over the Euphrates River, drying it up to provide a way for the kings of the East to reach Armageddon. Three unclean spirits then gathered the kings of the whole world, leading them “together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.”
After the seventh angel poured out his vial, a great voice from heaven thundered, “It is done.” Then voices, thunder, lightning, and a mighty earthquake led to the great city being divided into three parts, “and the cities of the nations fell.” Revelation uses the symbol of Babylon to describe proud pagan rulers and cities revolting against God and being finally defeated by His mighty power.
The battle of Armageddon carries religious significance for many different faiths. While orthodox Christians consider it a symbolic reference to the final battle between good and evil, Dispensationalists take a more literal interpretation. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Muslims, and Bahá’í believers all have specific interpretations regarding Armageddon.
Archaeologists have a more to learn about Armageddon, but this impressive find has revealed a great deal. Perhaps, unfortunately, no dig can reveal when the ultimate battle between good and evil will take place, or whether or not the battle of Armageddon in Revelation is a literal battle or a figurative reference to spiritual warfare.