A massive black granite sarcophagus that was unearthed in Egypt’s city of Alexandria earlier this month was opened on July 19, finally revealing its two millennia-old secrets to archeologists. Speculation as to what might be found in the 30-ton enclosure ranged from the lost tomb of Alexander the Great, to the potential for it to contain an ancient pharaoh’s vengeful curse. Unfortunately, no grand warrior-king emerged from the coffin, although it did contain a sort-of curse, albeit in the form of a really bad stink.

Initially discovered on July 1, the mysterious sarcophagus was discovered at a construction site near the Mediterranean coast, buried 15 feet below the surface, along with a badly-worn alabaster bust. The coffin measured nine feet long by five feet wide, the largest such coffin unearthed in Alexandria, a stark grandeur that added to the speculation that the tomb belonged to Alexander himself. Initially assumed to have been crafted during the Ptolemaic period between 323 and 30 BCE, some archaeologists involved with the excavation believe that the sarcophagus is from an earlier period, and may predate the founding of the city–and thus the fourth-century Macedonian conqueror himself.

Utilizing construction equipment to lift the 15-ton lid on site, the sarcophagus had opened just a few inches when nearby researchers were hit with a smell strong enough to drive them from the excavation: red-brown sewage water had seeped into the coffin over the centuries, partially filling the interior with a foul-smelling brew. This circumstance also contributed to the poor state of the three skeletons that were interred within, each having decomposed much further than researchers had expected.

"We found the bones of three people, in what looks like a family burial… Unfortunately the mummies inside were not in the best condition and only the bones remain," explains secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Mostafa Waziri. One of the skeletons has what appears to be an injury to its skull caused by an arrow, prompting researchers to speculate that the individuals buried there had been warriors in life. Researchers will now begin restoration work on the skeletons, to piece together the details of their lives, as to how and when they lived and died. 

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