The world of archaeology is often very close to death, doom, gloom, and grime. So, when archaeologists take the decision to crack open an ancient sarcophagus, they typically expect to find some skeletal remains or perhaps even some "tasty" red sludge. However, researchers in Germany working on an ancient Roman sarcophagus have discovered something much more pleasant.
The LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn in Germany announced on Monday that they have unearthed a 1,700-year-old sarcophagus containing the remains of a young Roman woman buried alongside some rather beautiful "essentials" for her journey into the afterlife: elegant glass perfume bottles, a makeup palette, a decorative knife, beaded and pearl necklaces, and a silver hand mirror.
The discovery of the heavy 4.5-ton sarcophagus was made at Zülpich, known in Roman times as Tolbiacum, along an ancient Roman road between Cologne and Trier in what is now modern-day western Germany. The excavation was carried out last year, but only publicly released this week as they were hoping to stumble across even more graves in the vicinity.
The stone coffin measures 2.3 meters by 1.1 meters (7.5 feet by 3.6 feet) and is known to date back to the third century CE. This kind of sarcophagus is exceptionally rare. Burials as extravagant as this were only reserved for the wealthy Roman elites in northern provinces. This woman was thought to be between 25 and 30 years old.
Finding these artifacts was no small feat. It required massive construction equipment to move the stone coffin out of its earthy grave, with the lid alone weighing over 2 tons. It then took researchers over a week to document the whole haul.
On top of the beauty equipment, they also discovered a collection of other fine objects. This included a small folding knife that features a figurine of the demigod Hercules as a handle and a set of delicate bone needles, one of which has a gold-decorated head. They also found a collection of rings made out of gold and jet, and a small jar that was inscribed with the Latin "Utere Felix" – a common expression of the time that means "use this happily".
"The focus of the objects is clearly related to jewelry and cosmetics," Susanne Willer of the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn told Der Spiegel, a German newspaper.
“It follows the expression: Be beautiful to death."