ARCHAEOLOGY NEWSFLASH NO. 183
Explorer Friend, this news is from Jonathan Gray -
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THE MYSTERY OF THE IRON PEG
David was stunned.
He stared at it. Then shook his head.
Finally, he looked me in the eye and said, “Jonathan,
this iron peg is the greatest archaeological mystery
of all time.”
Then he paused, carefully measuring his words:
“…unless Matthew's eyewitness account is true.”
Please read this amazing report of our Jerusalem
expedition and tell me what you think.
BUT FIRST - A GIFT FOR YOU Explorer Friend
Since last week's newsletter to you, I have decided to
give you a present. It's a brand new 55-page e-book,
"Solomon's Riches", which I think you will enjoy
To download it, please go to
SOLVING THE IRON PEG MYSTERY
And now, Explorer Friend, I need your advice. How would
you explain this very strange discovery we have made
It concerns a tomb and an iron peg.
Did we guess right - or is there something we have
You see, some very precise clues (for future
archaeologists?) were given in the New Testament
account of the crucifixion of Jesus in 31 AD.
We are informed in the writings that Jesus was
(a) “outside the city” (Hebrews 13:2; John 19:20)
(b) at a place called “the Skull” (Matthew 27:33;
Mark 15:22; Luke 23:33; John 19:17)
There is only one place around Jerusalem which has
borne, and still bears, the name Skull Hill. It is
just outside the North Wall, about 250 yards
north-east of the Damascus Gate. A portion of this
hill bears a striking resemblance to a human skull.
It is also the traditional site of burials for
Moslems, Jews and Christians.
Here it was, according to local tradition, that
criminals were stoned to death. In the Mishna this
place is called Beth ha-Sekelah, literally, “House
This was the recognized place of public execution
for Jewish criminals.
As late as the beginning of the 20th century, devout
Jews would spit at the hill, throw stones and curse
the “destroyer of their nation”.
It is such a site that the Roman authorities would
have selected for executions.
“OUTSIDE” THE CITY
Skull Hill is just a short distance outside the
Damascus Gate, the only direct exit from the
Castle of Antonine (the alleged place of Jesus’
Recent archaeological opinion also holds that
the Damascus Gate, which today marks the northern
boundary of the Old City, likewise marks the
northern boundary of Jerusalem in the 30s, the
time of Jesus’ crucifixion.
All this tends to add weight to the feasibility
of Skull Hill, outside the wall, advocated by
Otto Thenius (1842), Colonel Couder (1875) and
General Gordon (1883), being the actual site.
CRUCIFIXION PLATFIORM UNCOVERED
During excavations from January, 1979 to January,
1982, in front of the escarpment of which Skull
Hill is a part, a crucifixion platform was
The excavation crew found four squarish holes,
each 12 to 13 inches wide, cut into the
bedrock — holes which, apparently, had once held
“A VERY GREAT STONE”
Continued clearing of the area exposed a portion
of a large, flat rock, which was a little less
than two feet thick. I would like you to remember
that measurement. We shall meet it again.
The exposed edge was curved, somewhat like that
of a large, thick, rounded table-top.
As the men cleared away more dirt and debris,
it became apparent that the stone was enormous.
They stopped digging. The dirt and debris piled
over it was ten feet deep.
It would be several years later before its true
dimensions were to be determined by sub-surface
radar from above the ground.
The diameter was found to be 13 feet 2 inches!
Thirteen feet two inches.
Remember that measurement also, as we shall meet
A building had apparently been constructed
at one time to enclose BOTH the crucifixion
site AND this great, round stone.
How was this stone connected with a crucifixion
NEARBY – A TOMB
The New Testament states that near the crucifixion
site was a garden which contained the newly cut out
tomb of a wealthy man, Joseph of Arimathea.
And that the owner of this tomb, who had witnessed
the crucifixion of Jesus, was so moved that he went
to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to ask for
the body of Jesus to be placed in his – Joseph’s
– own unused tomb. This request was granted.
Three things close together:
1. the Skull Hill crucifixion site
2. a surrounding garden, and
3. a nearby tomb.
And one might note that Skull Hill does contain
a large complex of Jewish tombs dating from the
First and Second Temple periods - and in
particular, one known as the “Garden Tomb”.
In 1867, in the same cliff face close to the
crucifixion-site, a landowner was digging a
cistern on his property, when he discovered a
tomb cut into the cliff face.
As with the crucifixion site, this tomb was
beneath the current ground level, covered in the
debris of many centuries.
Several cisterns were also unearthed at this
spot. These suggested that an olive grove
could have existed here.
One of the cisterns was very large — and it
dated back to the first century or earlier.
Lying some 12 feet below the pavement against
the east wall, it could hold about 200,000
gallons of water, sufficient to keep a large
plantation green throughout the eight dry
months of the year.
In 1924, a very fine wine press was excavated
near the present main entrance to the garden.
This indicated that there had been a vineyard
Of course the discovery of a tomb in this
vicinity could hardly be described as
sensational. Many tombs had been found in
this large, ancient burial area of Jerusalem.
But this tomb was of special interest.
When a tomb is seen to be unusual (and we shall
address that shortly), and is seen to be
adjacent to an ancient execution site, as well
as in the setting of a garden, such a
combination of factors is not to be taken
In 1883, General Gordon, the notable British
soldier, came to the area — and became
convinced that the “skull face” was Jesus’
This prompted him to go looking for a
tomb that was “near at hand”, as indicated
in the Bible.
And just a few hundred feet away was this tomb,
today known as the Garden Tomb.
Although first discovered in 1867, it was not
excavated until 1891. At that time, Dr Conrad
Schick prepared a report with diagrams, which
was published in the Palestine Exploration
Fund Quarterly of April, 1892.
Once excavation of the tomb was completed,
characteristics were noted which did prove it
to be dated to the first century CE, the time
Dame Kathleen Kenyon, the famous British
archaeologist, said in 1970, “It is a typical
tomb of about the first century.”
EIGHT VITAL CLUES
Very well, then, we have here today a first
century tomb. But that is a far cry from
identifying it as the tomb of the biblical
Joseph of Arimathea who gave his personal
tomb for the burial of Jesus.
An archaeologist wants evidence. Is there
any way the ancient accounts might assist us?
Indeed, in those ancient writings I was able
to find eight clues.
According to the biblical reporters John,
Matthew and Luke, the tomb of Joseph had
1. It was near the place of
crucifixion. (John 19:42)
2. It was in a garden. (v. 41)
3. It was carved out of the rock.
4. It was a rich man’s tomb. (v. 57)
5. One could look into the tomb from
outside. (John 20:5)
6. There was standing room for a number
of persons. (Luke 24:1-4)
7. It was a new tomb and not an old tomb
renewed. (John 19:41)
8. The tomb was closed by rolling a GREAT
stone over the entrance. (Matthew 27:60)
In every one of these particulars, the tomb
discovered in 1867 matched the biblical
description. It fitted like a glove.
A RICH MAN’S TOMB
Entering the tomb, one is impressed with the size.
Certainly, only a rich man could have afforded a
tomb such as this.
Inside the tomb, to the right, was a spot for the
owner of the tomb to be laid — and close to that,
another spot, possibly for his wife. To the left,
a large room was cut out for mourners to stand.
BUT USED BY SOMEONE ELSE
But this tomb was NOT used by the person or
persons for whom it had been cut out.
Inside the tomb, one section carved out of the
rock to fit one man, had clearly been enlarged
for somebody else —someone who was taller than
the man for whom the tomb had been measured.
This enlarged section indicated that NOT the
owner, but some other person, was laid in this
rich man’s tomb.
The ancient record states that Joseph, a member
of the Sanhedrin, took the body of Jesus and
“laid it in his own new tomb”, “wherein was
never man yet laid.” (John 19:41)
And that is exactly what we discovered - this
spot in the tomb that was enlarged for
someone’s feet. Another link in the evidence?
A “NEW” TOMB
The existence of the cavity in the receptacle
at the tomb’s north-east corner, and the absence
of this cavity in the south-east receptacle, as
well as the unfinished groove toward the north
end of the west wall, show clearly that this
tomb was never completed.
A “GREAT STONE”
Something else. The record states that Joseph,
after placing the body in his own new tomb,
“rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb,
and departed.” (Matthew 27:60)
It goes out of its way to say “great” stone.
This clue, that it was a GREAT stone, is another
evidence that the owner of the tomb was a rich
Someone else was also interested in this tomb.
The Jewish chief priests and Pharisees went to
Pilate, the Roman governor, saying:
“Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while
he was yet alive, After three days I will rise
"Command therefore that the tomb be made
sure until the third day, lest his disciples
come by night, and steal him away, and say unto
the people, He is risen from the dead, so the
last error shall be worse than the first.
"Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your
way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went,
and made the tomb sure, sealing the stone, and
setting a watch.” (vv.62-66)
THE MISSING SEAL STONE
And that brings us to the seal stone.
Immediately in front of the tomb is a stone
trench, or trough. This was for the rolling
of a stone to seal the doorway.
At the left end is an incline. The stone was
rolled onto the trough at this end.
In 1995, my archaeological team in Jerusalem
measured this trough which was built to
channel the rolling stone. We found this trough
to be — wait for it — about two feet wide!
At the right hand end of the trough is a large
stone block, positioned to prevent further
movement of the seal-stone toward the right.
Above that, on the right hand face of the tomb
itself, a ridge was cut in the rock, which would
block the stone from rolling further in that
In the face of the tomb were two evidences which
showed that a very, very large seal-stone was
once used to seal this tomb.
1. In the right side of the tomb face, team
member Dr Nathan Meyer had on an earlier visit
pointed out a hole which was pierced into the
cliff face. The hole held the oxidized remains
of an iron shaft. This has since been removed,
but the hole remains.
2. On the left hand side of the tomb face,
another hole had been pierced into the rock for
the insertion of a metal shaft, to prevent the
seal-stone from being rolled to the left and
the tomb being opened.
On October 20, 1995, team members Dr David
Wagner and Peter Mutton measured across the
tomb face from the shaft hole on the left to
the ridge at the right. The distance was
discovered to be — you guessed it — precisely
13 feet 2 inches!
This shows that the seal-stone was, indeed,
“a very great stone” - over twice the diameter
of any other seal-stone found in Israel! To
our knowledge, the largest seal-stone
previously found was 5 feet 6 inches.
This and the size of the buried stone at the
nearby crucifixion site were a PERFECT MATCH.
MYSTERY OF THE IRON SHAFT
Now, are you ready for the mystery of the
iron shaft? Hold onto your seat...
We photographed and video-taped the spot where
the Romans drove the iron shaft into the stone
face of the tomb at the left edge of where the
13 foot seal-stone would have been.
They had done this in an attempt to prevent the
stone from being rolled to the side and the
tomb being opened.
The record states that the stone was “sealed”.
The metal shaft on the left which held the stone
in place was about two fingers in thickness.
It would be impossible to bend this shaft, much
less snap it off, simply by pushing the seal-
stone against it.
You see, to move the great stone even one inch,
the shaft must first be taken out.
However, when we examined the hole that held
the metal shaft, we found that the shaft was
still in there! What was left of it, that is.
It was sheared off, level with the wall.
The appearance of the metal was consistent with
its having been sheared off when struck with a
tremendous force from the right-hand side.
According to an engineer, the shear strength
of this peg was approximately 60 to 80 tons.
To put it another way, a metal peg of such
thickness would withstand 60 to 80 tons’ pressure
before it actually snapped off.
Imagine, if you can, ten tip trucks all
compressed together - or all the materials for
two brick houses squeezed together - and suddenly
dropped onto the iron peg.
That is the pressure required to snap the
Read that again, please. It is vital.
However, being soft and malleable, the peg
might have taken more than 60 to 80 tons’
pressure, bending first before it sheared
The engineer confirmed my conclusion.
“I could see that the end had been torn slightly
sideways - perhaps a quarter inch - to the left,
even though it was now rusted
some,” he said.
“It was an incredible sight, to witness what
had happened. Accomplished by moving the
stone in one simple move.”
He calculated that the stone itself weighed
around 13.8 tons.
Do you get this? It would be impossible,
humanly speaking, to snap off that metal shaft
by pushing from a dead stop. You see, there was
But the fact is, the seal-stone has gone.
Someone did push the stone aside without taking
out the metal peg... What kind of person or power
The disciple Matthew informs us that the power
involved was non-human: He says, “... the angel
of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and
rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon
"His countenance was like lightning, and his
raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the
keepers did shake, and became as dead men.”
He claims there were witnesses to this - the Roman
And what is the archaeological evidence?
It is the type of evidence that is easy to read.
It shows that the stone was moved with great speed,
by some colossal force WITHOUT TAKING OUT THE METAL
For several years after I first reported this
discovery, critics asserted that we were mistaken –
that this metal spike was no more than a piece of
shrapnel from an exploded shell which hit the wall
during the 1967 war.
Of course the skeptic's argument sounded plausible.
Then, early in 2004, the metal was tested by the
Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA).
Eventually, IAA archaeologist Yehiel Zelinger wrote
a short article stating that the metal object found
in the wall of the Garden Tomb was consistent with
metal pins used in Roman construction.
He stated that samples taken from the metal object
were tested at Hebrew University and shown to contain
both iron and lead.
It was common in ancient times to set metal pins in
molten lead. This would make them easier to drive
into solid objects.
While these tests do not determine the date of the
metal object, they do show a consistency with metal
pins used to construct the Coliseum in Rome and with
those found in other Roman period sites.
Bottom line… the findings are consistent with my
conclusion that this metal pin was used by the Romans
to seal the Garden Tomb.
The metal pin is NOT SHRAPNEL from an exploded shell.
It definitely IS of ancient origin.
The evidence also shows that the stone was moved with
great speed, by some colossal super-human force which
did NOT REQUIRE TAKING OUT THE METAL ROD.
Do you grasp the significance of this? Firstly, such
a feat is unexplainable by human action. Secondly, it
Like it or not, the physical evidence stares us in
I have asked for any person on earth to explain this.
Critics have fallen deathly silent.
But this question demands an answer:
That sheared-off metal shaft still stuck in the wall –
could this be evidence of a supernatural opening of
Pardon me, please. I am a hard-nosed archaeologist.
But this question must be asked: Why did Jewish
historian Pinchas Lapide say that the Resurrection of
Jesus Christ was a historical fact?
If there's a more logical solution, I'm interested.
But, remember, I'm interested only in facts.
Please don't give me any philosophical nonsense like
"It has never happened to anyone I know, therefore it
could never happen." Or I've never seen a dead man
rise, therefore it is impossible.
Simply review the above archaeological evidence again.
Then let your common sense guide you.
If this has whetted your appetite for more scientific
discovery, you may like to pursue this further.
Here’s a good starting point:
Well, Explorer Friend, may this upcoming week be a good one
DO YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS?
Please email me your questions. I am here to help
you with any questions on ancient mysteries. Just
email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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International explorer, archaeologist and
author Jonathan Gray has traveled the world
to gather data on ancient mysteries. He has
penetrated some largely unexplored areas,
including parts of the Amazon headwaters. The
author has also led expeditions to the bottom
of the sea and to remote mountain and desert
regions of the world. He lectures internationally.
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