Ancient coffins found with the elephants at the zoo

zoo coffin elephants israel

While building a wildlife hospital at a zoo in Israel, developers came across an interesting find: two ancient stone coffins called sarcophagi. Archeologists believe they could belong to husband and wife. A couple who have chosen to spend their afterlife along with the elephants and giraffes in the zoo.

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.

ossuary found at the zoo

Till death do us part at the zoo

When work on a new wildlife hospital began a few days ago, the contractor working in the area began digging and suddenly found the coffins. 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.

ossuary found at the zoo

According to Israel Antiquities Authority 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.

ossuary found at the zoo

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. Maybe they wished their afterlife to be in the zoo? 

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, known to us from the Passover legends. 

zebra rhino coffins found at zoo

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.

They were transferred to their rightful location in the Israeli National Treasures repositories.

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