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Two 1,800-Year-Old Sarcophagi Discovered in Central Israel

February 19, 2021
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The sarcophagi at the Safari Park

Friday, 19 February 2021 | An expansive new facility currently being built at Ramat Gan Safari Park will be an important addition to its wildlife hospital. During its construction, an extraordinary discovery was made last week. Two unique sarcophagi—ancient stone coffins—were found in the earthworks.

Veteran safari workers present at the time said that the coffins had been found years ago in the area of the safari’s parking lot. At the time, the sarcophagi were moved to a location near the veterinary clinic and the African savanna zone, but over the years they were forgotten and became buried under sand and thick vegetation.

When work on the new wildlife hospital began a few days ago, the contractor working in the area began digging and suddenly Rami Tam, the head of the African savanna zone, noticed the two coffins jutting out of the soil. He quickly called animal health and management director Shmulik Yedvab, who came to see the find and contacted Alon Klein and Uzi Rothstein at the Israel Antiquities Authority’s (IAA’s) Theft Prevention Unit. Hardly believing their eyes, the inspectors were astonished to see sarcophagi of this kind at the Safari Park. After a thorough examination, they excitedly confirmed the unique find’s great age.

Based on the stones and their ornate decoration, the sarcophagi were intended for people of a high status who were evidently buried near the Safari Park.

According to IAA archaeologists, the sarcophagi are roughly 1,800 years old and date from the Roman period. They are ornamented with symbolic discs to protect and accompany the soul on its journey to the afterlife and flower garlands, often used to decorate sarcophagi in the Hellenistic period as well. Between the garlands are oval blanks, which the archaeologists believe were originally intended to be filled with a customary grape-cluster motif, but for some unknown reason the work remained unfinished.

The sarcophagi, made of local stone—probably from the Judean Hills or Samaria—are locally produced imitations of the prestigious sarcophagi made of Proconnesian marble from the Turkish island of Marmara. Found together, the two sarcophagi bear identical ornamentation and they may have been made for a husband and wife or for members of the same family. The exact provenance of the sarcophagi is unknown, but they were probably buried near the Safari Park, in the region of Messubim, the site of ancient Bnei Brak in the Roman period.

The wealthy owners of the sarcophagi, buried with their personal grave goods, had no idea that the coffins would find a place of honor alongside giraffes, elephants and a bird nursery. On Tuesday, the sarcophagi were transferred to their rightful location in the Israeli National Treasures repositories.

Posted on February 19, 2021

Source: (Excerpt of a press release originally published by the Israel Antiquities Authority on February 18, 2021. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our publication today.)

Photo Credit: Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority

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