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Experts prepare to open an ancient sarcophagus in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. (Ministry of Antiquities via Facebook)

Egyptian archaeologists say they’ve opened up a mysterious black sarcophagus found during excavations in Alexandria, and although they didn’t uncover the evil curse that some feared, they did uncover an evil-looking mess.

The coffin was “filled with sewage which leaked through the grove in this area, plus three skeletons,” Mostafa Waziri, general secretary of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, reported today in an Arabic-language Facebook update.

Photos showed the bones sitting in a pool of dark muck.

The nearly nine-foot-long sarcophagus was discovered in the course of pre-construction building inspections in Alexandria’s Sidi Gaber district.

Experts dated the sarcophagus to Egypt’s Ptolemaic period, just after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C., or to the era of Roman rule that followed starting in 30 B.C. An alabaster head was found sitting nearby.

The date estimate, the presence of the head and the unusually large size of the sarcophagus led some to speculate that the tomb might hold Alexander the Great’s missing remains.

Bones in sarcophagus
Ancient bones sit in a pool of sewage water inside an Egyptian sarcophagus. (Ministry of Antiquities via Facebook)

But Shaaban Abdel-Moneim, a specialist in the study of mummies and skeletons, said a preliminary look at the bones suggests they belonged to three warriors who may have died in battle. One of the skulls showed the markings of an arrow wound.

Waziri said sewage from a nearby building apparently leaked into the sarcophagus through a small crack in the side, fouling the remains. But no other signs of a curse, ancient or modern, came to light.

“We’ve opened it and, thank God, the world has not fallen into darkness,” Reuters quoted Waziri as saying. “I was the first to put my whole head inside the sarcophagus … and here I stand before you. … I am fine.”

Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry said that after an initial round of preservation work, the 30-ton sarcophagus will be lifted out from the construction site and transferred to its facilities.

Abdel-Moneim said the bones would be studied in the Alexandria National Museum’s restoration laboratory to learn more about the cause of death and the warriors’ historical era.

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