Archaeologists in Egypt have unearthed and opened a 2000-year-old sarcophagus in the Mediterranean town of Alexandria. The discovery has generated a whir of debate and excitement with some thinking it contains the remains of Alexander the Great and others fearing opening it could unleash the wrath of an ancient curse.
While the sarcophagus looked possibly royal from the outside, when archaeologists opened it on Thursday they found what they believe are the remains of three soldiers. The skeletons are being sent to labs for further study.
Found at the beginning of July, the sarcophagus was discovered at a construction site in a tomb 15ft below the surface. It is about 9ft long and almost 6ft high and weighs more than 27 tons. It is made of black granite and had not weathered yet. Archaeologists believed it had never been opened, as they found a layer of mortar between the lid and the body.
Upon its discovery, the Ministry of Antiquities in Egypt appointed a team of archaeologists to work on the sarcophagus and pry it open. It was here when rumor mills started rolling; some people believed opening the sarcophagus would cause unspecified and catastrophic effects on Earth. It is a popular belief in Egypt that disturbing ancient mummies will attract the curse of the Pharaohs.
While some feared curses, others were eager to see the contents of the Egyptian sarcophagus. Many hoped that it would contain the remains of Alexander the Great who was buried in the Alexandria region. His tomb has never been found. The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities dated the sarcophagus to the Ptolemaic period which roughly began around 323 BC, the year that Alexander the Great died.
According to Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, the sarcophagus was found to contain three human skeletons and a reddish brown liquid. Reports also indicate that the sarcophagus emitted such a pungent odor that the archaeologists had to at first depart from the site temporarily. They also had to seek help from military engineers to lift the mysterious heavy coffin.
“We found the bones of three people in what looks like a family burial,” said Waziri denying claims that the tomb contained the remains of Alexander the great. “Unfortunately the mummies inside were not in the best condition and only the bones remain,” he added. While the other skulls were intact, one of the three skulls contained multiple fractures as if hit with a sharp object and hinted at having belonged to a warrior.
Waziri also addressed the fears of a curse saying, “we’ve opened it and thank God, the world has not fallen into darkness…I was the first to put my whole head inside the sarcophagus, and here I stand before you. I am fine.” He said the reddish brown liquid was discovered to be liquid sewage which had seeped into the sarcophagus through a crack and led to the decomposition of the mummies.
The Ministry of Antiquities now says this Egyptian sarcophagus together with its contents will be taken to museums within Egypt for further studying. They hope to decipher which era the skeletons are from and to whom they possibly belonged.