Grim History Behind The Skeletons In That Giant Black Sarcophagus Revealed


Madison Dapcevich


Madison Dapcevich

Freelance Writer and Fact-Checker

Madison is a freelance science reporter and full-time fact-checker based in the wild Rocky Mountains of western Montana.

Freelance Writer and Fact-Checker


Museum of Antiquities

For more than a month, the world has been captivated by a massive 2,000-year-old black granite sarcophagus discovered during an excavation in Egypt. Now, Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities says they may finally have some answers about what exactly happened to the three skeletons buried together in the 2.6-meter-long (8.7 feet) tomb.

The biological sex and age of the skeletons were revealed by analyzing the anatomy of the skulls, pelvises, and longitudinal bones to belong to a young woman and two young men. It appears as though the burial happened in two subsequent phases because the skeletons were placed on top of each other. The woman is believed to be between 20 and 25 years old, measuring between 160 and 164 centimeters tall, while the man is estimated between 35 and 39 years old between 160 and 165.5 centimeters tall.


A third skeleton is believed to be a man between 40 and 45 years old, between 179 and 184.5 centimeters tall. A hole in the back of his skull was first believed to have been caused by an arrow wound, but further examination indicates it could have been the result of a surgical procedure known as trepanation. If so, it could be one of the oldest known cases in the world.

One of the oldest examples of trepanation in the world? Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities

Trepanation was a crude procedure conducted by humans around the globe for thousands of years that involves carving a hole in a living person’s head by drilling, cutting, or scraping away layers of bone with a sharp tool. The archaeological jury is still out on why it was performed, and theories range from medical treatments, such as treating pain or neurological disorders, to performing ritualistic acts.  

According to Dr Zainab Hashish, director of management of skeletal remains, trepanation was rare in ancient Egypt and few discovered skulls have shown signs of it. More research is being done, including DNA and CT scans, to see if the three skeletons could have been related. 

Archaeologists lifted the lid last month when they discovered the sarcophagus had been filled with sewage that appeared to have leaked in from the road in the area, decomposing the skeletons’ wrappings. The stench was so bad the team reportedly needed to air out the area for an hour before resuming excavations. 

Three skeletons were recovered from the sarcophagus in what could have been a repurposing event. Museum of Antiquities

Waves of paranoia floated through the Twittersphere as people around the world expressed concern about an apocalyptic demonic entity being released in a very Indiana Jones fashion. Meanwhile, thousands signed up a petition urging the Egyptian government to let them drink the putrid red liquid found in the sarcophagus.


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