1,500-year-old sarcophagus discovered in Abkhazia
At the end of August, archaeologists in Abkhazia made an important discovery – during the excavation of an ancient settlement in the city of Ochamchira, a lead sarcophagus dating back to the 5th-6th century was discovered. Scientists are in no hurry to open it, so it is not yet known who is buried in the discovered grave.
The sarcophagus is an important find not only for Abkhazia but for the entire Caucasus, says the director of the State Museum of Abkhazia, historian and archaeologist Arkady Dzhopua.
“Before that, sarcophagi were dug out twice in Abkhazia – one made of limestone, weighing almost a ton, is now located in the Kaman church (presumably John Chrysostom was buried in it), the second is made of copper, but the lead sarcophagus is a unique find for Abkhazia”, says Arkady Dzhopua.
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The joint Abkhaz-Russian archaeological expedition to the ancient settlement of Guenos has been going on for three years. This is the only ancient settlement in Abkhazia the location of which has been established for certain.
Scientists also managed to establish that the founders of the settlement were not Greeks – at the time of their arrival there was already a city inhabited by local residents. The archaeologists came to this conclusion because of the layer of the pre-Greek period, discovered during excavations.
“This is a pre-antique layer, here we managed to find many examples of local ceramics. Moreover, there was no conflict between the locals and the Greeks – their cohabitation was voluntary – and this completely changes our understanding of ancient colonization, since it was previously believed that the Greeks founded Guenos from scratch”, says Russian archaeologist Alexander Skakov.
The newest find – a lead sarcophagus, was found near the ruins of a Christian temple, which was discovered earlier by the historian and archaeologist Sergei Shamba. Therefore, scientists suggest that a clergyman or a very respected resident of the city may be buried in it.
“Whoever he was, he was a prominent figure of his time, because ordinary mortals were not buried in the sarcophagus or near the temple. Perhaps this is a respected clergyman or a representative of the local nobility. For example, the last sovereign prince from the Shervashidze-Chachba dynasty was buried in the Mokva temple, although he had nothing to do with religion”, explains Arkady Dzhopua.
The sarcophagus has not yet been opened, it was removed from the ground, inventoried, and stored in a safe place until the arrival of specialists.
“We did not open the sarcophagus ourselves, although during the excavation a small piece of lead fell off and we saw that the bone tissue was preserved inside. Now we have transported the tomb to a safe place, we are looking for specialists who can conduct an autopsy in accordance with all international standards.
Then a genetic analysis of the bones will be required to establish the age and gender of the deceased. If inside there is something other than bones, for example, the remains of clothes or jewelry, it will be possible to guess who the deceased was”, says Dzhopua.
After all the necessary procedures and research is carried out, the sarcophagus will be exhibited at the State Museum of Abkhazia.
“Of course, it will be exhibited, but first it is necessary to restore it. Lead is a soft metal, it deforms under the weight of the earth. We need to restore it to its original form. There are no such specialists in Abkhazia, most likely, we will invite someone from Russia, but so far this issue has not been resolved”, says Arkady Dzhopua.
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