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Massive Cemeteries with Strange Burials Excavated at Medieval Monastery in Sudan

Massive Cemeteries with Strange Burials Excavated at Medieval Monastery in Sudan

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Archaeologists have officially announced that four large cemeteries were unearthed near the remains of a medieval Christian monastery in Sudan. At least 123 individuals have been excavated so far, while some of the burials included corpses laid to rest in very odd ways.  

A Monk-filled Cemetery

The four cemeteries and 123 human remains have been unearthed over the past two years and are located at a monastery called al-Ghazali near the Nile River. In 2014, a team of Polish archaeologists discovered a Byzantine monastery which had been inhabited by a large group of monks and visiting pilgrims.

Aerial view of cemetery two, which is located beside the al-Ghazali Christian monastery, in Sudan.

Aerial view of cemetery two, which is located beside the al-Ghazali Christian monastery, in Sudan. ( Robert Stark )

The skeletons found in one of the four cemeteries seems to verify their idea since they all belonged to males, suggesting that the monks who lived in the nearby Christian monastery were buried there. The monks probably lived there about a thousand years ago, during a time when a series of Christian kingdoms prospered in the location, according to Robert Stark , a doctoral student at McMaster University who presented the findings this month in Toronto at the joint annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and the Society for Classical Studies.

Previous Excavations in Sudan

In 2013, another team of archaeologists announced the discovery of a 900-year-old crypt in Sudan containing seven mummified bodies and walls covered with inscriptions. 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 thought to be the Archbishop Georgios, probably the most powerful religious leader in the kingdom. An epitaph naming him was found nearby and said that he died in 1113 AD at the age of 82. Inside the crypt, the walls were covered with inscriptions written in Greek and Sahidic Coptic in black ink on a thin layer of whitewash.

Inside the 900-year old crypt found in Sudan in 2013.

Inside the 900-year old crypt found in Sudan in 2013. ( Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology Archives )

Individuals Buried in Very Unusual Ways

The new finds include well-preserved shrouds that in some cases still covered the skulls of the dead, as Stark told Live Science . Like at the monastery found at Old Dongola in 1993, archaeologists found tombstones with engravings of prayers that were written in Greek or Coptic as well.

One of the individuals with the still intact burial shroud.

One of the individuals with the still intact burial shroud. ( Robert Stark )

However, the most puzzling thing about the new finds is the fact that some individuals were buried in very unusual ways; specifically, two corpses were found with post-mortem cut marks incised in their bones. Stark pointed out during his presentation, "All the indicators [are] that this happened when the bones were still quite fresh", focusing on the fact that there are no signs that the bones were marked by scavenging animals. According to Stark , it’s also possible that the cut marks were created during some form of defleshing.

Oddly, archaeologists found even more individuals in the same cemetery that were buried in even stranger ways. For instance, one person's legs were lying at a 45-degree angle, with the individual’s right arm dangling across his or her head. Stark speculates that this person was probably buried in a completely disorganized way, despite the fact that his/her grave appears to be carefully dug into the ground with a neat stone structure built above it.

An odd burial found at cemetery four.

An odd burial found at cemetery four. ( Robert Stark )

Top Image: One of the burials found at the cemetery site near the monastery in Sudan. Source: Robert Stark

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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