Does the coffin hold Alexander the Great?
On July 1, construction workers in Alexandria unearthed a massive black sarcophagus. Archaeologists immediately rushed to the area to investigate. Could this be the grave of Alexander the Great? Would an ancient curse be unleashed if the coffin was opened?
Who is inside?
There were certain facts archaeologists could draw from the area and just looking at the coffin. First, the site dates from 323-330 B.C. If Alexander the Great died in 323 as some historical accounts claim, that supports the theory the coffin is his. The size of the sarcophagus is also significant. It’s almost nine-feet long and five-feet wide, which is huge. It weighs around 30 tons. Also significant: there is no inscription. That’s strange, especially if it was used to bury someone important like Alexander.
However, there’s evidence to suggest the sarcophagus is not Alexander the Great’s. Two archaeologists who talked to National Geographic believe the coffin is from further back in Egyptian history, where large sarcophagi were more common. It might then have been moved from its original resting place to Alexandria and reused. It could still belong to someone important, though; the black granite material would have been expensive and hard to cut. That person (according to one archaeologist) is unlikely to be Egyptian, however, because royals would not have been buried so far from ancient Alexandria.
Opening the sarcophagus
After much anticipation, the sarcophagus was opened on July 19 by wedging a wooden plank into the lid. They were instantly met by a smell so strong they had to wear face masks. This was caused by large amounts of liquid sewage which had somehow seeped into the coffin. Floating around in this vile broth were three skeletal remains. All were adults and one bore an injury to the head probably caused by an arrow. Were these soldiers? Why were they together? They were also buried without any personal belongings, which is odd. The skeletons will be moved to the National Museum of Alexandria for further study.
The internet reacts
When the first images of the skeletons submerged in liquid hit the internet, experts had not yet determined that it was raw sewage. Readers responded as veterans of the Bizarro world that is world web would expect: they wanted to drink what was affectionately called the “mummy juice.” One man – Innes McKendrick – even started a Change.org petition asking archaeologists to “let the people drink the red liquid from the dark sarcophagus.” As of 10:49 am (Pacific Time Zone) on July 26th, over 27,000 people have signed it. Why? Innes says that he and his fellow mummy-juice enthusiasts need to drink the liquid to “assume its powers and finally die.” When told that the liquid is sewage, he replied, “…that’s impossible everyone knows mummies cannot poop.”
Now that the sarcophagus has been opened and its contents revealed, new work begins. Experts will date the skeletons and learn if they were actually buried together at the same time or if – like many coffins of this size – two bodies were added later. Archaeologists will continue to explore the work site in the hopes of finding other artifacts or anything that might help identify who these people were, but without any kind of inscription or drawings to go by, it might not be possible. We do know for sure that this is not the long-lost tomb of Alexander the Great, since he would have been buried alone with many riches and an inscription.
A giant black coffin filled with liquid sewage might be on this year’s list of weirdest archaeological finds. Here are some more, including an ancient tile with cat footprints.