33 Greco-Roman family tombs found in Aswan

Archaeologists with the Egyptian-Italian Mission At West Aswan (EIMAWA) have discovered 33 Greco-Roman family tombs on the side of a rocky hill in western Aswan near the Mausoleum of the Aga Khan. The burials date to between 6th century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D. and contain mummified remains that promise to shed new light on the death and disease in Aswan’s middle class from the period.

The tombs were built on more than 10 layers of terraces. No other tomb has ever been discovered in Egypt with that kind of terracing. It had been looted in antiquity, but some of the rock-cut chambers contain surviving funerary objects, including stone and wooden sarcophagi, offering tables, painted statuettes, figurines, terracotta lamps and large remnants of vividly painted cartonnage. The presence of the lamps suggests the tombs may have been visited by survivors for mourning and ritual purposes; the flickering lights would have been visible through the openings on the hill and must have had a striking effect for viewers on the ground.

The bodies found include an adult (believed to be a woman) with a child who was around one or two when they died. They were leaning on each other in the stone sarcophagus. Archaeologists suspect they were related, probably parent and child. DNA analysis will attempt to establish what their familial relationship was.

X-rays and anthropological study of the human remains have created a valuable compendium of information on life, illness and death in Greco-Roman Egypt. For example, between 30 and 40% of the deceased were young, ranging from neonates to adolescents. Evidence of infectious disease was found in many of the mummies and of some metabolic disorders. Several adult women had survived limb amputations. Nutritional deficiencies and anemia were common. Evidence of tuberculosis and osteoarthritis was found in some of the bodies.

The tombs themselves vary in architectural style, with some featuring vaulted entrances and open courtyards, while others are carved directly into the rock. Dr. Ayman Ashmawy, Head of the Egyptian Antiquities Sector, noted that the location of the tombs within the necropolis, combined with the presence of certain artefacts, suggests that the middle class of Aswan Island residents were buried in this area. […]

Abdel Moneim Saeed, General Supervisor of Antiquities in Aswan and Nubia, expressed optimism that further excavations at the site will yield even more valuable information about this historically significant region. The mission will continue its work, using the latest technology to analyse the mummies and artefacts, in an effort to paint a more complete picture of life and death in ancient Aswan.

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