1,700-year-old Roman sarcophagus accidentally destroyed in Romanian cemetery
A rare, 1,700-year-old sarcophagus with an inscription dating from the second century and the carved face of Medusa in stone was destroyed by an excavator in the cemetery of Alba Iulia, Romania.
A local resident, who understood that there could be a major archaeological discovery at hand, reported the incident. When archaeologists arrived, they were dismayed to find that the 1,700-year-old sarcophagus had been destroyed and historical fragments were scattered throughout the area.
The worker who destroyed the sarcophagus was expanding the cemetery in Alba Iulia when he came across some boulders. Not knowing what they were, the man continued to dig and extract the pieces of stone with the excavator. A local resident took some photos and sent them to representatives of the National Museum of Unification in Alba Iulia.
"We looked at the fragments on the ground and discovered a series of elements that lead us to conclude that we are dealing with a sarcophagus. There are pieces of the sarcophagus lid and the coffin. A Roman stone sarcophagus comprised two 'operculum' and 'arca'. There are pieces of the coffin and the lid, which has four-quarters of a sphere at the corner. [...] We also have the sculptural decoration with the face of the Gorgon Medusa. It is a typical decoration for workshops in Alba Iulia, and it is represented in other funerary monuments, but it is a rarity," said George Bounegru, an expert in funerary archaeology at the National Museum in Alba Iulia, in a statement for Alba24.ro.
According to archaeologists, the sarcophagus would have been about 2.5 meters long and belonged to a man named Claudius (CL), who lived for 30 years. "The dedication was put by the 'coniux', the form of 'coniugi', which in Latin means 'the deceased's spouse'," specialists explained.
"We are in an unfortunate situation. We are in a protected area from an archaeological point of view. It is a category A site. The law provides and clearly states that when archaeological remains are discovered, work stops and the authorities are notified," says Matei Drîmbărean, director of the Alba County Cultural Directorate.
The minister of culture goes further and says that a preventive archaeological excavation was needed, which the cemetery administrators did not take into account.
"They must do preventive research or, if they cannot do it for objective reasons, they must do the excavation under the supervision of an archaeologist. They were warned that they must do this and they did not, now the responsibility is theirs," culture minister Lucian Romașcanu told Digi24.
Not much can be reconstructed from the site now. “A pile of stones somewhere here, something, an inscription, a name that can be partially reconstructed, a person [named] Claudius, whom we know lived for 36 years," said Bounegru.
The police have opened a criminal case for destruction and work that could affect archaeological sites.
(Photo source: Microgen | Dreamstime.com)