Leopard sarcophagus virtually restored

The intense stare of a leopard painted on a fragmented wood sarcophagus lid has been virtually restored. The remains of the sarcophagus lid were discovered in a 7th century B.C. tomb by the Egyptian-Italian Mission at West Aswan in January of 2019.

The leopard was a symbol of strength and determination in ancient Egypt. When the sarcophagus was intact, the face of the large cat painted on the acacia lid corresponded with the head of the deceased. The effigy of the powerful animal would have helped the individual on his journey to the afterlife.

With so few fragments in fragile condition, the image on the lid of the sarcophagus was reconstructed virtually before it was physically reconstruction. It is cleaned and pieced together, but its brilliant colors are true to life and have not been digitally enhanced.

The necropolis on the west bank of the Nile is comprised of about 300 tombs, some dug into the hill, some underground, that were in use from the 7th century B.C. through the 3rd century A.D. Last year, the team unearthed a two-chamber tomb with 35 mummies, including some of small children, numerous funerary objects, mummification supplies (jars of bitumen, white cartonnage blanks ready to be painted and an intact palm wood stretcher with linen strips that was used to transport the mummies into the chamber.

In the chamber next to the leopard sarcophagus, archaeologists discovered a small vessel containing organic vegetal remains. Analysis has identified those remains as pine nuts, an extremely rare find in Egyptian archaeology. The seeds of the Mediterranean umbrella pine are not native to Egypt and must have been imported.

“We like to imagine – comments [professor of Egyptology of the State University of Milan Patrizia] Piacentini – that the people buried in the tomb of Aswan loved this rare seed, so much so that their relatives placed a bowl next to the deceased that contained them so that they could feed on them for eternity.”


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Comment by Rick
2020-03-04 09:42:52

How about this. Leave these people alone! They were buried for eternity, not for some future archeologist to “discover’ and loot their graves. Grave robbing now has the approval of the historians so that makes it okay if they do it and add another paragraph to their CV. Now ancient bodies are no more than displays in a museum. I find it appalling and disrespectful.

Comment by Dougie
2020-03-04 12:09:03

Or you could leave it for the real looters with no respect or desire to preserve, just sell the good stuff and destroy the rest! I’m hoping that in centuries to come they find my remains and all the weird objects I’m getting buried with, it’s going to be a frenzy of “ritual” 🤣

Comment by George M.
2020-03-04 13:26:07

This cat does not appear to be a leopard to me. Leopards have a distinctive speckled face which this one does not. I would say that it looks more like a lioness. The eyebrows and vertical stripes above the eyes appear to be decorative since they are not natural markings of either a leopard or lioness.

Comment by Rick
2020-03-04 14:27:13

It’s been there 2,700 years unlooted, I’m okay with trying for another 2,700. But, there is just too much money in grave robbing for it to left to amateurs these days.

Comment by George M.
2020-03-04 17:34:22

Dear Rick,

To me it is the lesser of 2 evils to excavate human remains under controlled scientific conditions rather than leave them to be scattered by looters. The people are long gone and have no further interest in what archeologists or looters do. It is about what we do. The remains can always be re-interred after storage. Once scattered and destroyed by looters looking for salable grave goods they are gone forever.

Comment by Jim
2020-03-04 20:50:47

Good thought-provoking discussion!
Eternity is not “forever” or more linear time. We’re in it now.
We honor old immaterial souls best by respectfully learning about and sharing the material they’ve left behind.

Comment by John Cooper
2020-03-10 13:41:48

@Rick, @Dougie et al.: I’m glad to hear someone else express that human remains should be treated differently than artifacts. While it’s becoming increasingly common to feel that human bodies are essentially the same as any other inert material, most of us would still be bothered were the bodies of our dead parents or siblings displayed as curiosities, even in an educational context, and that instinct should logically be extended even to the bodies of those more distant from us in time.

Of course we should protect these remains from looters, as we would protect our own cemeteries.

The comment of the professor that the people of Aswan buried their loved ones together with bowls of pine nuts “so that they could feed on them for eternity” shows a similar lack of empathy. Do we bury our dead in fine clothes so that they’ll be dressed respectfully when they meet God? Do we lay their heads on pillows so they’ll be comfortable? No, we do it because it’s customary and satisfies our sense of rightness in some undefinable way. The ancients were no different.

Finally, I’m with @GeorgeM in disputing that this picture is of a leopard. It could be a lioness, but it seems most likely to be a cheetah. While they don’t have the “eyebrows” (does any cat?) they certainly have the vertical stripes above the eyes, and have a long history of being semi-domesticated by the noble class.

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