History

Mysterious Icon Found at Bethlehem Church

The centuries-old icon, found under layers of plaster, is made of brass, silver, shells and stones.

Restoration work in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem has brought to light an icon of great religious and historical value, officials say.

Ziad al-Bandak, a Palestinian presidential adviser for Christian Affairs, told Ma'an news agency that the centuries-old icon is made of brass, silver, shells and stones.

He added the religious artifact was found under plaster about two months ago near a window in the church.

What Did Jesus Look Like?

Originally built in the fourth century by the Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena over what is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, the Church of the Nativity was leveled in the Samaritan Revolt of A.D. 529 and reconstructed during the reign of Justinian in the 6th century.

The church was in such poor condition after centuries of neglect that in 2012 it was listed by UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, as an endangered world heritage site.

A year later, the first major restoration in more than 500 years began. So far $8 million, from the Palestinian Authority, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches and others, has been spent to restore the church.

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"The removal of centuries of dust has left mosaics sparkling in the sunlight filtering through brand new windows," al-Bandak, who is leading the Palestinian committee in charge of the restoration, said.

"Structural repairs on the fragile rooftop and windows have been completed and artistic treasures have been returned to their delicate elegance," he added.

The first phase of the restoration has now ended, but another $11 million is needed to complete the project.

Early Image of Beardless Jesus Found

Meanwhile, plaster covering the mysterious religious artifact has been removed. The ancient icon is not available for public viewing and photographs have yet to be published.

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is shown before the restoration project.

Egypt will likely offer promising finds in 2016. King Tutankhamun's tomb will be under the spotlight as

recent investigation

suggests the western and northern walls of the 3,300-year-old burial may hide two secret chambers. According to Egypt's Minister of Antiquity Mamdouh al-Damaty there is a 90 percent chance the tomb of King Tut contains such chambers. Damaty made the announcement last November at the end of a radar-based investigation. The non-invasive search followed a claim by Nicholas Reeves, a British Egyptologist at the University of Arizona, who first speculated the existence of the chambers, arguing that one contains the remains, and possibly the intact grave goods, from queen Nefertiti. She was the wife of the "heretic" monotheistic pharaoh Akhenaten, Tutankhamun's father. Will archaeologists try to access the hidden chambers? Their attempt may lead to what Damaty called "one of the most important finds of the century."

Radar Finds Secret Chamber in King Tut's Tomb

The noninvasive technologies applied to King Tut's tomb will be widely used this year in another ambitious project. Called Scan Pyramid, the investigation is carried out by a team from Cairo University's Faculty of Engineering and the Paris-based organization Heritage, Innovation and Preservation under the authority of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. The project aims to scan the largest pyramids of Egypt in order to detect the presence of any unknown internal structures and cavities. The technique could lead to a better understanding of the pyramids' structure and how they were built. The project uses a mix of technologies such as infrared thermography, muon radiography, and 3D reconstruction to look at the inside of four pyramids, which are more than 4,500 years old. They include Khufu, or Cheops, Khafre or Chephren at Giza, the Bent pyramid and the Red pyramid at Dahshur. One

particularly remarkable anomaly

has been already detected on the eastern side of the Great Pyramid, also known as Khufu or Cheops, at the ground level. Much more is to come -- the first results are expected in the first months of the year.

Striking Anomaly Found in Great Pyramid

Last year a study made an

extraordinary and controversial claim

: Stonehenge was basically a second-hand monument from Wales. It would have stood there hundreds of years before it was dismantled and transported to Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. The research indicates that two quarries in the Preseli Hills of Pembrokeshire, in southwest Wales, are the source of Stonehenge's bluestones. Carbon dating revealed such stones were dug out at least 500 years before Stonehenge was built -- suggesting they were first used in a local monument that was later dismantled and dragged off to England. "Stonehenge was a Welsh monument from its very beginning. If we can find the original monument in Wales from which it was built, we will finally be able to solve the mystery," Mike Parker Pearson, director of the project and professor of British later prehistory at University College London said. Researchers have been using geophysical surveys, trial excavations and aerial photographic analysis to identify the ruins of a lost, dismantled monument. The results of such research promise to make the headlines this year. "We think we have the most likely spot. We may find something big in 2016," Kate Welham, of Bournemouth University, said.

Stonehenge First Built in Wales, Study Claims

In early December,

the Colombian government announced

they had found the holy grail of treasure shipwrecks -- an 18th-century Spanish galleon that went down off the country's coast with a treasure of gold, coins and precious stones now valued between $4 billion and $17 billion. The multibillion-dollar ship, called the San Jose, was found off the island of Baru, near Cartagena. The vessel was part of Spain's only royal convoy to bring colonial coins and bullion home to King Philip V during the War of Spanish Succession from 1701 to 1714. The San Jose was trying to outrun a fleet of British warships off the island of Baru on June 8, 1708, when an explosion sent it to the bottom of the Caribbean Sea. She was reportedly carrying 600 people, chests of emeralds and tons of silver, gold and platinum. The shipwreck has been at a center of a decades-long search that also involved a legal battle with the Seattle-based Sea Search Armada, or SSA, a commercial salvage company that claims it first discovered the wreck's location in 1981. Moreover, Peru has argued that any treasure recovered from the San Jose should be considered a Peruvian national patrimony. As more legal fights will likely occur, new expeditions to the wreck in 2016 are expected to recover the much disputed treasure of gold and emeralds.

Multibillion Dollar Shipwreck Found Off Colombia

One of the most promising discoveries last year was

an oval-shaped structure

unearthed in the Tuscan town of Volterra. Archaeologists believe it represents the most important Roman amphitheater finding over the last century. The foundations of the colosseum, which is oval-shaped like the much larger arena in the heart of Rome, might date back to the 1st century A.D. Amphitheaters like these were used during Roman times to feature events including gladiator combats and wild animal fights. The archaeologists estimate the structure, which mostly lies at a depth of 20 to 32 feet, measured some 262 by 196 feet. Only a small part of it has been unearthed during a small dig survey. New finds are expected this year as a full-scale dig is launched.

Gladiator Colosseum Found in Tuscany