Ancient Black Tomb Unearthed in Egypt

A big black box with alabaster heads was found near Egypt's Library of Alexandria.

“We are simply passing through history,” French archaeologist René Emile Belloq tells Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). “This is history.” A mysterious black sarcophagus was unearthed on the northern coast of Egypt, in the vicinity of the Great Library of Alexandria. The box has not been opened in over 2000 years. The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities dates the tomb to the Ptolemaic era. At over six feet tall, nine feet long, and five and a half feet wide, this is the largest sarcophagus ever found in Alexandria, according to Sciencealert.

“An Egyptian archaeological mission from the Supreme Council of Antiquities uncovered the ancient tomb … during the excavation work carried out to inspect the land” of an Alexandrian “inhabitant before digging the foundations of his building at Al-Karmili Street in Sidi Gaber district,” Alexandria, Dr. Mostafa Waziri, General Secretary of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, announced to the Ministry of Antiquities Facebook page.

Dr. Ayman Ashmawy, the Head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector, said the tomb was found 5 meters beneath the surface of the land. “There is a layer of mortar between the lid and the body of the sarcophagus indicating that it had not been opened since it was closed in antiquity. An alabaster head of a man was also found and most probably belongs to the owner of the tomb,” the Ministry of Antiquities  added.

John DeSalvo, Ph.D. Director of the Great Pyramid of Giza Research Association, tells Den of Geek “this could be the most significant find of the last several hundred years.” The author of Decoding The Pyramids: Exploring The World’s Most Enigmatic Structures says he is “not convinced that it is 2000 years old. Just because it is found in a site that dates around that time, it may be older.” DeSalvo speculates the tomb “could have been moved there or there are a dozen other possibilities that their dating is wrong.”

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“The Egyptian authorities want everyone to believe the Great Pyramid was built by the ancient Egyptians, but most objective researchers believe it is much much older and predates Ancient Egypt,” DeSalvo says. “What if we are talking about something that predated the Egyptian Dynasty?  Maybe they copied a more ancient civilization and that is where many of their mortuary practices came from, but they have no idea what they mean since that information wasn’t passed down.”

DeSalvo says the unearthed tomb “does not represent the typical sarcophagus that is usually found.” He points to the black granite, because “a sarcophagus of this material was never found so far, even for pharaohs and high officials.”

The Ministry dates the tomb back to sometime between 304 and 30 B.C., after the death of Alexander the Great, when the descendants of Ptolemy I ruled Egypt. Alexandria was the capital of Egypt at the time. The thick layer of mortar sealing the tomb means whatever is inside has been there for between 2,048 and 2,341 years. If a person is buried inside it, any clothing or jewelry they wore may still be intact.

DeSalvo says researchers can test any “amulets, and also date the bandages so we can get a close date for the mummy.”

Late last year, archaeologists revealed they uncovered the graves of four children at an ancient site in Egypt. An ancient statue of a Nubian king with an inscription written in Egyptian hieroglyphics was discovered at a Nile River temple in Sudan. Archaeologists recently unearthed a 2200-year-old gold coin which depicted King Ptolemy III, an ancestor of Cleopatra. Experts in Southern Egypt discovered a marble head depicting the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Experts in Australia found remains of an ancient priestess in a 2500-year-old Egyptian coffin long believed be empty.

In February, archaeologists found a hidden network of tombs in the Minya Governorate south of Cairo.  Another team discovered a 4,400-year-old tomb believe to belong to Hetpet, a women close to the ancient Egyptian royals of the 5th Dynasty, just outside Cairo near the country’s Giza Plateau. An artifact depicting the female pharaoh Hatshepsut surfaced in the United Kingdom, as did one of the oldest tattooed female mummies.

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A Greco-Roman temple was found in April which may shed light on the Siwa Oasis, one of the most remote settlements in Egypt, dating between 200-300 BCE. New research indicates King Tutankhamun may not have been a sickly youth and was actually a boy soldier.

While DeSalvo guesses the tomb encases “someone of high standing in Egypt,” the proximity to the library opens the possibility “that this sarcophagus was used to bury something more important like documents. If I could wish what is inside I would wish for papyrus, manuscripts, scrolls, of new information that may change our understanding of our history and our world.”

Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.