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Crypt with Magical Inscriptions in Sudan

Ancient crypt with seven mummies contained ‘magical’ inscriptions

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Archaeologists have reported on the discovery of a 900-year-old crypt in Sudan containing seven mummified bodies and walls covered with inscriptions.  The text appears to have been written as a form of protection for the individuals contained inside, which includes a powerful religious leader.

The tomb was found in 1993 in a monastery at Old Dongola, the capital of a lost medieval kingdom called Makuria that flourished in the Nile Valley.  However, it was not excavated until 2009 when seven males were found inside in a naturally well-preserved state. They were wearing linen garments and some of the individuals wore the Christian cross.

One of the mummies is believed to be the Archbishop Georgios, probably the most powerful religious leader in the kingdom, because an epitaph naming him was found nearby, which says that he died in 1113 AD at the age of 82.

Now newly published research has revealed that inside the crypt, the walls were covered with inscriptions written in Greek and Sahidic Coptic in black ink on a thin layer of whitewash.  As well as excerpts from the gospels of Luke, John, Mark and Matthew, they also contain magical names and signs, and a prayer given by the Virgin Mary, at the end of which death appears to her "in the form of a rooster." After Mary dies, according to the text, she ascends to heaven with Jesus.

Archaeologists believe that the magical names were used to serve as protection for the deceased against evil powers. They were "intended to safeguard not only the tomb, but primarily those who were buried inside of it during the dangerous liminal period between the moment of dying and their appearance before the throne of God," wrote Adam Łajtar, of the University of Warsaw, and Jacques van der Vliet, of Leiden University, in the most recent edition of the journal Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean.

The period between the late 8 th and 12 th centuries were a golden age for Makuria, a Christian kingdom that lived in peace with its Islamic neighbour to the north, the Fatimid Caliphate.  Its kings, ruling from Old Dongola, controlled territory throughout much of modern-day Sudan and parts of southern Egypt.  Makuria's ability to maintain good relations with its Islamic neighbour, which controlled Egypt, was important to the kingdom's success as the two had an extensive trade relationship, and many people from Makuria served in the Fatimid army.

Makuria's end came when the Ayyubid dynasty took control of Egypt in A.D. 1171. They launched an invasion of northern Makuria, bringing about a period of decline and eventually the loss of the kingdom's independence.

By April Holloway

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