Builders rediscover two 1800-year-old sarcophagi in Israel


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A group of workers building a veterinary hospital in Tel Aviv’s Ramat Gan safari park accidentally found two 1800-year-old sarcophagi, reports the Israel Antiquities Authority .

Builders rediscover two 1800-year-old sarcophagi in Israel
The design is similar to marble sarcophagi found in ancient Marmara, in what is now Turkey
[Credit: Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority]

According to the safari workers, the sarcophagi were first discovered years ago in the area of the parking lot. Over the course of years, they were forgotten and were no longer visible because the spot was overgrown.

Alon Klein and Uzi Rothstein, officials of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Theft Prevention Unit, explained that the ornate nature of the coffins suggest that they were probably made for people with a high social status. The coffins date to the Roman period, 200-300 CE, and since they bear identical decoration of garlands and discs, they may have belonged to a husband and wife.

Builders rediscover two 1800-year-old sarcophagi in Israel
Two 1,800-year-old sarcophagi discovered at the Ramat Gan Safari Park
[Credit: Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority]

The sarcophagi are ornamented with symbolic discs to protect and accompany the soul on its journey to the afterlife, and flower garlands often used to decorate sarcophagi in both the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Between the garlands are oval blanks, which the archaeologists believe were originally intended to be filled with a customary grape-cluster motif, but for some unknown reason, the work remained unfinished. 

The sarcophagi are carved from local stone – probably from the Judean Hills or Samaria – and thus they are locally-produced imitations of the prestigious sarcophagi made of Proconnesian marble from the island of Marmara, in what is today modern Turkey.

Builders rediscover two 1800-year-old sarcophagi in Israel
1,800-year-old sarcophagus discovered at the Ramat Gan Safari Park
[Credit: Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority]

The original provenance of the sarcophagi is unknown, but they were probably buried near the Safari Park, in the region of Messubim – the site of ancient Bnei Brak in the Roman period.

The wealthy owners of the sarcophagi, buried with their personal grave goods, had no idea that their coffins would find a place of honour alongside giraffes and elephants.

Source: Israel Antiquities Authority [February 19, 2021]

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