Saturday,17 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1403, (26 July - 1 August 2018)
Saturday,17 November, 2018
Issue 1403, (26 July - 1 August 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Jack in the sarcophagus

The mysterious Alexandria sarcophagus is still capturing the world’s attention, even now it has been opened and found to be curse-free, reports  Nevine El-Aref

 

The mysterious Alexandria sarcophagus

Earlier this week, the heavily populated Al-Karmali Street in the Sidi Gaber district of Alexandria was a hive of activity when a committee from the Ministry of Antiquities came to the area to open the recently uncovered sealed black granite sarcophagus known as the “mysterious sarcophagus” of Alexandria.

The story of the sarcophagus started early in July when archaeologists stumbled upon it during an excavation carried out on private land in Al-Karmali Street. According to Egyptian law, any land that is to undergo construction must be excavated and inspected by a mission from the Ministry of Antiquities before new foundations are laid.

The sarcophagus is carved of black granite and is 185cm tall, 265cm long and 165cm wide and does not bear any inscriptions to determine its owner. It has been sealed since it was carved in antiquity.

It captured the imagination of people on social media and the Internet and caught the headlines of several international and local newspapers and TV channels. These referred to the film The Mummy showing how things could go wrong when people interfere with Ancient Egyptian sealed items.

People posted tweets and Facebook posts warning of opening the sarcophagus, while others claimed that archaeologists could have found the tomb of Alexander the Great or even his mummy.

David Milner, editor at Gamer Informer Australia, tweeted “as a fan of Brendan Fraser’s ‘The Mummy’, I say don’t open the cursed sarcophagus. But as someone who saw Tom Cruise’s ‘The Mummy’, I say do it. We deserve the horrors that await.”

Jeet Heer of the US magazine The New Republic, said “if we’ve learned anything from every Mummy movie of the last 100 years, it’s that the sarcophagus must not be opened.”


Three skeletons were inside the sarcophagus

According to an article in the UK Express newspaper entitled “Egypt Mummy Discovered, Archaeologists warned against Opening Mysterious Sarcophagus”, author Nick Mosley joked “just for once, how about we re-bury the sinister black sarcophagus and pretend we never found it? They’re going to open it, aren’t they? Oh well, I’m off to Tesco [a UK retail chain] to stock up on holy water.”

Some claimed that the sarcophagus belonged to Alexander the Great whose tomb has never been found. Others said that the sarcophagus held the secret of the Pharaohs’ curse and warned not to open it because the world could be cursed and stay in darkness for a thousand years.

A third group claimed that the sarcophagus belonged to an Ancient Egyptian royal family member and was full of a gold funerary collection.

To put an end to such speculation, an archaeological team headed by Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), travelled to Alexandria earlier this week and opened the sarcophagus after hours of hard work to detach the eight-ton lid from the sarcophagus located in its original pit five metres beneath ground level.

On removing the lid, a disgusting smell spread out from the sarcophagus and a red liquid appeared on the surface. Delving inside the sarcophagus, three skeletons were found in the liquid.

Early investigations have revealed that the liquid is sewage water that had leaked inside the sarcophagus through a crack in its right-hand side which in turn caused the decomposition of the mummies and turned them into skeletons.

Mummification expert Shaaban Abdel-Moneim explained that preliminary studies on the skeletons had shown that they belonged to soldiers because one of them had an arrow wound on its forehead. More examinations have to be carried out in order to know more about the skeletons, the causes of their deaths, the historic era they lived in and the diseases they may have suffered from.

“The sarcophagus has been opened, but we have not been hit by a curse,” Waziri told Al-Ahram Weekly. He said that suggestions claiming that the sarcophagus might contain the mummy of Alexander the Great or Cleopatra or the New Kingdom Pharaoh Ramses II had proved unfounded.

 

EVIDENCE: Archaeologists depend on scientific and archaeological evidence, and in the case of this sarcophagus no inscriptions were found so it is difficult to know the skeletons’ identities and the historic period they are from.

Egyptologist and former minister of antiquities Zahi Hawass told the Weekly that it was expected that the sarcophagus did not belong to Alexander the Great or a Ptolemaic or Roman royal because it was found outside the Roman royal necropolis.

Nonetheless, he suggested that the sarcophagus belonged to someone important as it is carved in black granite brought from Aswan. “For someone to bring granite from Aswan, located more than 1,000km away, means the owner of the sarcophagus would have been very rich,” Hawass said.

He pointed out that for hundreds of years failed attempts have been made by archaeologists and explorers to locate the tomb of Alexander the Great, believed by many to have been buried in Alexandria.

The first attempt was made by a Greek waiter named Stello who tried to find it in Ramle Station area of Alexandria, while late archaeologist Fawzi Al-Fakharani believed that Alexander was buried in the Al-Shatby area. Other claimed he was buried in the Al-Nabi Daniel area in downtown Alexandria.

“The dream of finding Alexander the Great’s tomb is overwhelming, and that is why people believe that the sarcophagus belonged to Alexander the Great,” Hawass asserted.

Although the mysterious sarcophagus was finally opened and was free of any curse, as well as of the mummy of Alexander the Great, there has still been a wave of speculation about its contents.

Thousands of people have signed a petition to drink the red liquid found inside the sarcophagus, suggesting that it is “mummy juice” that holds its power for eternity. “We need to drink the red liquid from the sarcophagus in the form of some sort of carbonated energy drink so we can assume its powers,” the petition said.

Others suggested that the liquid is mythic “red mercury”. According to some people’s belief, if someone possesses this liquid he could be able to control the spirits and become rich.

Speculation has also concerned the skeletons, as some claim they belong to one person at different stages of life. “Why has this sarcophagus captured all this attention? Most discovered stone sarcophagi are sealed and are more luxurious and elegant than the one found in Alexandria,” Waziri wondered.

Last Saturday, five stone-sealed sarcophagi were found in the Saqqara Necropolis along with a mummification workshop. “We opened one of them and nothing happened, and the world did not end in darkness as some had claimed. After opening the Alexandria sarcophagus, also nothing happened,” he commented.

The liquid is not mummy juice or red mercury and is only sewage water. Samples have been taken to identify its components.

As for the suggestion regarding the skeletons, Waziri said that it was totally unfounded. “How could the skeletons belong to one person in different stages of life? I think this is a joke from people on Facebook,” Waziri told the Weekly.

He added that the skeletons were now being studied and it was too early to say anything about them. The sarcophagus is also under investigation in a bid to discover its historical period.

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