Thursday, July 12, 2018

Mystery Sarcophagus Found in Alexandria

A large black granite sarcophagus has been discovered in Alexandria, Egypt. The sarcophagus is one of the largest ever found from the Ptolemaic period, when the Greeks ruled Egypt. More importantly, it is sealed - and nobody knows what they will find inside. It probably won't be alien bodies or anything bizarre like that, but it still should help us understand the burial customs of the time.

The 6-foot tall (185 cm) coffin was found buried about 16 feet (5 meters) underground, along with an alabaster head of a man whose features were worn beyond recognition.

It was discovered on July 1 at a construction site during a routine archaeological inspection by government officials, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced, in an official Facebook post. The news was reported by Al-Ahram, Egypt's state-run newspaper.

Egypt is governed by strict laws to protect and preserve national antiquities. Under the Protection of Antiquities Law, all antiquities are considered property of the State.
Archaeologists date the site back to sometime within the Ptolemic era, between 305 and 30 BCE.

Ancient Greek and Roman artifacts are not unusual discoveries in Alexandria, the famed home of Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great. But unlike other ancient Egyptian tombs that have been opened and looted, the 2,000-year-old sarcophagus has until now, remained undisturbed.

Archaeologists are particularly interested in the sarcophagus because the period from which it dates was a time in which Greek and Egyptian burial customs were intermingled, and because it appears to be undisturbed. Greek-style portraits were common on sarcophagi during this period, and I suspect in this case that may have extended to Greek-style statuary - the alabaster bust probably was originally an image of the deceased, and it looks like it was made in the Greek style.

Some Greeks also took up the practice of mummification, with varying degrees of expertise. A number of the burials found from this period show signs of poorly-done mummification, and it will be interesting to find out if that is the case here or if the body was simply entombed. The Greek and Egyptian concepts of the afterlife were very different, and during the Ptolemaic period it looks as if people often adopted customs from each.

Of course, aliens would be more fun. Or a functional engine for a flying saucer. Or an anti-gravity ray like the ones used to build the pyramids. But the most likely possibility, that it's a regular human body, can still tell archaeologists a lot.

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