A guided tour of an archaeological site like Herodium can be a unique birthday present for a friend or family member. It was a hot and sunny day but there was a cool breeze on the mountaintop and you could understand one reason why Herod would have chosen this site.
When I guide Herodium I often start in the Old City to show people the remains of the buildings at the Wohl museum and the stones of the walls and streets from the Herodion period along the western wall below Robinson’s Arch. Also, the Herodion stones forming the base of the tower at the Roman Gate are impressive. Seeing examples of Herod’s architecture help people know what to look for when we get to Herodium.
Last summer, I participated for a few days in the latest excavations that Ehud Netzer is leading on the eastern side of the mountain, excavating the tomb area. We were working on the pool and besides many pottery shards we found some catapult stones (size of snowballs, not to be confused with the larger ones rolled down from the walls by the Jewish rebels) and some coins from the Great Revolt.
Excavations are continuing and they’ve excavated a much larger area now. More of the base of the mausoleum is now exposed. Additional stone architectural details of a very high quality can be seen. These are not of the local soft limestone but a more royal stone, called meleke, that would have been quarried some distance away and brought here. Netzer thinks that the base supported a nefesh or monument, cylindrical in shape, something like Yad Avshalom in the Kidron Valley.
The latest findings are changing our understanding of Herodium. For example, it seems that the earth that was piled up around the mountain palace/fortress is not from the time of Herod but later. Originally, there was a glacis, a sloping wall, that circumvented the mountain.
Also, the archaeological evidence suggests that the staircase that is described by Josephus “and provided an easy ascent by two hundred steps of the purest white marble” was built later, that originally there was a “snake path” like at Masada. Archaeologists are left with some interesting unanswered questions: When was it done, why and by whom?
I’ve uploaded additional photographs of Herodium to Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/27944012@N06/sets/72157615671440473/