Egypt shares secrets from mysterious sarcophagus skeletons

No curses have emerged from the sarcophagus, but the bones tell some surprising stories.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities shared this image of the skeletons and sewage found inside the sarcophagus.

Ministry of Antiquities

A massive, ominous black granite sarcophagus unearthed in Alexandria, Egypt, in July sparked talk of ancient curses and caught the world's attention when archaeologists opened up the burial container. Now Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities is back with an update on its contents.

The Ptolemaic-period sarcophagus revealed a grim stew of three skeletons mixed with red sewage water when authorities first looked inside. 


A close-up look shows the trepanation hole in one of the skulls.

Ministry of Antiquities

An initial study of the bones shows one skeleton belonged to a woman between 20 and 25 years of age. The second belonged to a man between 35 and 39, and the third was from a man between 40 and 44. 

One of the skulls has a rounded cavity resulting from a surgery called trepanation where a hole is drilled or scraped into the skull to treat certain health problems.

"This surgery is the oldest surgical intervention ever known since pre-history, but was rare in Egypt," said Zeinab Hasheesh, director of the Department of Skeleton Remains Studies at the Ministry of Antiquities.

The red water found inside the sarcophagus touched off a lot of speculation, as well as a humorous online petition signed by people who wanted to drink the liquid. 


This skeleton has a broken skull. 

Ministry of Antiquities

The ministry says tests of the red substance are ongoing, but the strange color likely came about from sewage water mixing with the skeletons' decomposed wrappings. This update should at the very least discourage anyone from wanting to take a sip of the stuff.

The research team also discovered what the ministry describes as "gold sheets" among the remains. Those items are still under investigation.

Archaeologists will continue to study the bones by performing scans and DNA tests to determine if there was any familial relationship between the three skeletons. 

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