JERUSALEM (AP) — Ehud Netzer, an Israeli archaeologist best known for excavating King Herod’s winter palace and discovering the monarch’s tomb there, has died after falling at the site this week. He was 76.

Netzer led numerous high-profile digs over decades of work in a country where the ancient past plays a central part in national life and where archaeologists have sometimes become leading public figures. Israel’s prime minister released a statement mourning his death.

Netzer’s discoveries helped expand modern understanding of ancient Israel and especially of King Herod, the extravagant Jewish proxy ruler who controlled the Holy Land under imperial Roman occupation two millennia ago.

Beginning in the 1960s, Netzer took part in the excavation of Masada, one of Israel’s most famous digs. There, archaeologists revealed the scene of a standoff between Roman legionnaires and Jewish rebels after the destruction of the second Jewish temple in Jerusalem — also built by Herod — in 70 A.D. The siege famously ended when the Jews committed mass suicide.