The mysterious black sarcophagus of Alexandria has not finished surprising us. Discovered by accident in early July, it surprised archaeologists with its imposing size of almost 9 feet. However its exceptional state of conservation was also surprising. For 2,000 years it had never been opened which is an exception since most of the sarcophagi discovered so far had already been looted.
Inside archaeologists discovered three skeletons bathing in a strange orange liquid. After analysis it seemed that it was sewage water that had infiltrated the sarcophagus over the centuries. The burial object contained very few funerary ornaments, but three gold panels bearing inscriptions have attracted archaeologists’ attention.
Among the motifs represented is a drawing of a snake, a very common representation in ancient Egypt and often associated with the funerary goddess Isis. Another drawing seems to represent a pod of poppy seeds deposited in an altar, according to an expert interviewed by LiveScience. Nevertheless, the meaning of these representations remains largely mysterious.
Two men and a woman
The skeletons themselves however have yielded more secrets. According to researchers, the bone analysis revealed that the remains belonged to three people who lived during the Ptolemaic era of ancient Egypt. A woman between the ages of 20 and 25, and two older men, one between 35 and 39 years-old and the other between 40 and 44 years-old.
One of the two men in particular has attracted attention. On his skull archaeologists found a hole of about half an inch in diameter. According to the Egyptian Ministry of State of Antiquities, the characteristics of the bone suggest that this man would have lived for a certain amount of time with this cavity in his head. It could thus be the result of a surgical operation known as trepanning.
‘This surgery is the oldest surgical procedure known since prehistoric times, but it has only rarely been seen in Egypt,’ says Dr. Zeinab Hasheesh. This practice consisted of making a hole in the skull in order to relieve hypertension.
Members of royalty?
According to Dr. Mostafa Waziri, Secretary-General of the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities, the bodies would in all likelihood have been buried in two consecutive stages. ‘The bodies were found stacked on top of each other,’ he says in a report. But who were they? Surely not members of royalty, since no cartouche was found.
Archaeologists have suggested that they were perhaps military officers, but the presence of a woman refutes this theory. In ancient times, the Egyptian army was exclusively composed of men. To date, the identity of the three deceased remains a mystery. Scans and DNA analysis will be conducted to determine if the individuals belonged to the same family.