Archaeologists Risk “Curse of the Pharaohs” to Open 2,000-Year-Old Egyptian Sarcophagus

An ancient sarcophagus recently excavated from the Egyptian city of Alexandria has now been opened to reveal three skeletons and sewage water

Archaeologists Risk "Curse of the Pharaohs" to Open 2,000-Year-Old Egyptian Sarcophagus

Earlier this month, archaeologists unearthed a two-millennia-old sarcophagus in the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria, amid speculations that it contained the remains of Alexander the Great and that a “curse” was waiting to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world if, at all, it were to be opened.

Well, to the detriment of rumor-mongers, all that the 9-foot-long, 5-foot-wide, and 6-foot-deep sarcophagus unleashed when it was opened yesterday were three skeletal remains and some stinking sewage water. No Alexander. No curse.

“The sarcophagus has been opened, but we have not been hit by a curse,” said the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council for Antiquities, Mostafa Waziry, who was accompanied by a team of mummification and restoration specialists when the granite tomb was unsealed.

It was the British media that, actually, fuelled speculations about the contents of the tomb and the so-called “curse of the pharaohs,” their hypothesis based on a string of deaths, believed to have followed the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb early last century.

“Opening ancient tombs can be risky business, or so history tells us,”  wrote the Sun. “It’s popular belief that a ‘curse of the pharaohs’ is cast on anyone who disturbs the mummy of an Ancient Egyptian person.”

The remains-of-Alexander theory was floated by The Independent.

“I’ve had calls about this all day,” Waziri told The New York Times earlier this month. “People are saying it might contain Alexander or Cleopatra or Ramses. They don’t know what they are talking about.”

The red liquid found inside the sarcophagus along with the three long-dead occupants was identified as liquid sewage, believed to have seeped in through a right side crack in the ancient structure, causing the mummies to decompose.

A handout photo made available by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities shows workers removing sewer water submerging three decomposed mummies after opening the black granite sarcophagus that was discovered in Sidi Gaber district, Alexandria, Egypt. (Photo: EPA-EFE)
A handout photo made available by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities shows workers removing sewer water submerging three decomposed mummies after opening the black granite sarcophagus that was discovered in Sidi Gaber district, Alexandria, Egypt. (Photo: EPA-EFE)
Egyptian archaeologists display skulls of three decomposed mummies found inside a black granite sarcophagus that was discovered in Sidi Gaber district, Alexandria, Egypt. (Photo: EPA-EFE)
Egyptian archaeologists display skulls of three decomposed mummies found inside a black granite sarcophagus that was discovered in Sidi Gaber district, Alexandria, Egypt. (Photo: EPA-EFE)

The ancient tomb, which dates back to the Ptolemaic period, was discovered during excavation work that was being carried out for some other purpose in the Sidi Gaber district of Alexandria.

Inside the tomb was a huge sarcophagus made of black granite, believed to be the largest found to date in this ancient city on the Mediterranean coast.

According to the Head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector Dr. Ayman Ashmawy, the tomb, which was found 5 meters below the land’s surface, had a layer of mortar between the body of the sarcophagus and its lid.

The presence of mortar was an exciting bit of discovery for the archaeologists, as it indicated that the sarcophagus had remained unopened since it was sealed and buried more than 2,000 years ago.

An alabaster head, thought to have belonged to the owner of the tomb, was also found along with the sarcophagus.

Based on his initial study of the bone structures and the fact that one of the skeletons was found to have suffered an arrow blow, Shaaban Abdul – a specialist in mummies and skeletons and a member of Dr. Waziri’s team – believes that the skeletons are the remains of three soldiers.

The skeletons will be moved to Alexandria’s National Restoration Museum for further studies to determine the cause of death and the era they belonged to, said the Ministry of Antiquities.

The questions that researchers and Egyptologists will be seeking answers to should logically include:

  • Who were these three individuals?
  • Why were they huddled in death inside a giant sarcophagus?
  • Which era did they belong to?
  • What brought about their deaths?
  • Did they die at the same time?
  • Were they buried with any belongings?

According to Waziri, the skeletal remains do not appear to belong to Ptolemaic or Roman royal family members, as was thought at the time of the discovery.

Also, no inscriptions, engravings, or hieroglyphics were found on the inside or outside of the sarcophagus, nor was there any mention of any artifacts, other than the Alabaster head, inside the tomb or the sarcophagus – none that we know of.

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