Friday, July 20, 2018

Sorry, No Mummies!

Well, actually not sorry. As horror movies have shown us, mummies are bad.

When archaeologists opened the mysterious black sarcophagus found in Alexandria, no mummies sprang up to loose evil spells or plagues of Egypt or whatever upon the world. In fact, the whole thing was pretty underwhelming. They found that water had seeped through the seal even though it looked intact from the outside, filling the box and speeding decomposition of the bodies inside. So there were no mummies, just three skeletons.

Despite warnings of an ancient curse to those who would open the 2,000-year-old sarcophagus, archaeologists went ahead on Thursday, enlisting the help of Egyptian military engineers.

"The sarcophagus has been opened, but we have not been hit by a curse," Mostafa Waziri, the secretary-general of Egypt's antiquities ministry, told Egypt Today, which published live updates of the sarcophagus opening. Waziri added that the sarcophagus was unusual for its size; it's the largest ever discovered in Alexandria.

What the archaeologists found inside the sarcophagus was grisly - but it was not the earth-shattering discovery some had hoped it would be. The three skeletons found in the sarcophagus were most likely soldiers, according to Egypt's antiquities ministry, and one skull showed signs of fractures caused by a sharp instrument. Beyond the skeletons, the sarcophagus was inundated with sewage water, which accelerated their decomposition. The skulls will be further analyzed to understand their age, the cause of death, and where they came from.

Alexandria was the capital of Ptolemaic Egypt after Alexander's army conquered the region and deposed the old pharaohs. The Ptolemaic dynasty famously ended with Cleopatra's suicide during the Roman conquest of Greece and Egypt around 30 BCE.

So the sarcophagus appears to be of unusual size because it was used to bury three people, not one person of high status. Maybe the skeletons will yield more information about the Alexandrian period, but for that we will just have to wait and see. I suppose technically we have to wait and see about a curse, too, since spells sometimes take time to produce results. But that seems less likely now that we know the sarcophagus doesn't hold the body of the sort of high-ranking leader that might justify setting a curse.

It's also interesting that the sarcophagus was opened with the Sun in Cancer - because this story is a reminder of the power of cardinal water. Over time, it gets into everything.

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