Jerusalem: Scientists have for the first time in centuries uncovered the original surface of what is traditionally considered the tomb of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Researchers, who exposed the stone slab in the Church venerated as the resting place of Christ, said the tomb has been covered by marble cladding since at least 1555 AD, and most likely centuries earlier.
"The marble covering of the tomb has been pulled back, and we were surprised by the amount of fill material beneath it," said Fredrik Hiebert, archaeologist-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, a partner in the restoration project.
"It will be a long scientific analysis, but we will finally be able to see the original rock surface on which, according to tradition, the body of Christ was laid," said Hiebert.
The burial shelf is enclosed by a small structure known as the Edicule, which was last reconstructed in 1808-1810 after being destroyed in a fire, 'National Geographic' reported.
The Edicule and the interior tomb are currently undergoing restoration by a team of scientists from the National Technical University of Athens.
The exposure of the burial bed is providing researchers an unprecedented opportunity to study the original surface of what is considered the most sacred site in Christianity. An analysis of the original rock may enable them to better understand the original form of the tomb chamber.
It could also help explain how the rock evolved as the focal point of veneration since it was first identified by Helena, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, in 326 AD.
"We are at the critical moment for rehabilitating the Edicule," said Chief Scientific Supervisor Professor Antonia Moropoulou.
"The techniques we're using to document this unique monument will enable the world to study our findings as if they themselves were in the tomb of Christ," said Moropoulou.