More than 2000 years after it was sealed by the ancient Egyptians, archaeologists opened a gruesome black sarcophagus in the city of Alexandria. On Thursday, specialists removed a massive granite lid, revealing three skeletons covered in sewer water that had leaked into the tomb. The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced the discovery of what some feared would contain a curse.
According to The Guardian newspaper, Mostafa Waziry, the head of the Supreme Council for Antiquities, said of the find: “The sarcophagus has been opened, but we have not been hit by a curse,” he said, according to the Guardian. "We found the bones of three people, in what looks like a family burial... Unfortunately, the mummies inside were not in the best condition and only the bones remain."
Archaeologists were disappointed at the state of preservation of the human remains. Until this week, the massive stone cap on the sarcophagus had been sealed with mortar. Over time, however, sewage from the roads above the tomb seeped through a crack, thereby causing the mummified bodies to rot.
The Ministry of Antiquities provided photos of human bones apparently stewing in a dark reddish liquid. Video of the site showed that workers were trying to empty the tomb of the fetid water.
Egyptian authorities found three three skeletons inside the sarcophagus. Described as one of the largest tombs ever found in Alexandria, there were however no precious metals, amulets, inscriptions or death masks found with the human remains. This provided evidence that the persons entombed were not of royal status. Archeologists also found a worn alabaster bust of a man, which may be a portrait of one of the dead buried in the tomb.
One of the skulls exhibited multiple fractures caused by a sharp object, such as an arrow. This is believed to show that in life, the man had been a warrior. The other two skulls were reportedly identified as also belonging to men. Researchers will use modern techniques to ascertain the ages of the dead and get an idea of their appearance when the men were alive, thousands of year ago. Specialists said that the tomb may have been for family members.
Governor Mohamed Sultan of Alexandria said that the remains will be taken to the Alexandria National Museum, but the stone sarcophagus will be preserved at the Military Museum.
The sarcophagus measures 72.8 inches by 104.3 inches by 65 inches, weighing over 30 thousand pounds, and was discovered during archaeological excavations in advance of new construction nearby. Massive in size, it is a rare find because it had not been looted.
When the archaeologists tried to open the cover of the sarcophagus, they were met with an odor so horrible that they fled in disgust. Warned by the Ministry of Antiquities that opening the tomb was "a risky business or so history tells us," the team decided to hazard another try. The lid was eventually raised by restoration professionals who teamed with military engineers.
An initial analysis showed that the mummies may have been soldiers of the Ptolemaic period, which started in 323 B.C. with the death of Alexander the Great and continued until the Roman conquest in 30 B.C.