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FOUND: A Very Special Sarcophagus

The sarcophagus (Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority)

Inspectors for the Israel Antiquities Authority went on a mission Tuesday night. They had received a tip, Live Science reports, that at a construction site in Ashkelon, an Israeli city on the Mediterranean Sea, construction worked had tried to cover up the discovery of a rare artifact.

They woke up five workers who were sleeping at the site, and the workers admitted it: they had found a sarcophagus in the ground, pulled it out with a tractor, and poured concrete over the spot where they’d found it.

The sarcophagus, it turned out, was an amazing object—according to the Israel Antiquities Authority, it’s superlative in many ways (“rarest,” “most important,” and “most beautiful” have all been used to describe it). It’s a little over eight feet long, and on the lid is the figure of a reclining man with a Roman haircut. Elsewhere, it’s decorated with jugs, grape leaves, grapes, bull’s head, cupids, and Medusa’s head. It’s dated to the region’s Roman period, 1,800 years ago.

When the workers pulled the coffin out of the ground, though, some of the carvings were damaged. In Israel, this sort of behavior—failing to report the discovery of an ancient object, damaging an artifact—is a crime, and the workers could be punished by up to five years in prison. When you live someplace where every plot of land has the potential to contain a valuable historic object, laws like these are basically the only way to do construction without destroying the past.

Bonus finds: A lost baby alligator, a strange “alien creature

Every day, we highlight one newly lost or found object, curiosity or wonder. Discover something unusual or amazing? Tell us about it! Send your finds to sarah.laskow@atlasobscura.com.