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Construction Workers Found, and Then Tried to Hide an Ancient Sarcophagus

It turns out the now-damaged coffin is actually quite a find

(Alexandre N&E/Photononstop/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

It’s only been a week since SmartNews reported on a group of confused construction workers who tore down an ancient tomb and replaced it with a picnic table. And this week, the AFP reports on another construction-related crime against history — Israeli officials recently discovered that a group of building contractors discovered, recovered and then hid a Roman-era sarcophagus.

The 1,800-year-old coffin was excavated while working on a new neighborhood in Ashkelon, Israel, the AFP reports. When construction workers stumbled across the sarcophagus, they used a tractor to rip it out of the ground, then hid it behind boards and metal sheets. At this point, it’s still unclear why the workers hid their discovery.

It turns out that the sarcophagus is quite a find, reports Rossella Lorenzi for Discovery News. Covered with carved images of naked Cupids, bulls’ heads, Medusa and wreaths, the now-damaged coffin features a large image of a man leaning on his side. Lorenzi writes that the coffin was likely designed and built for a family of wealthy Romans.

Operating on a tip, the Israel Antiquities Authority got on the case, inspecting the site and discovering the sarcophagus on Tuesday night. In a statement, the IAA notes that failing to report an ancient discovery and damaging an antiquities site could be punished by five years in prison. They’re mourning the find as an “extremely serious case of damage to a rare antiquity of unprecedented artistic, historical and cultural importance.”

Here’s a photo of some of the damage done to the coffin. You can view other photos on the IAA’s website.

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