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Strange ‘Huddled’ Skeletons Discovered in Berenice Troglodytica Tombs

Berenice Troglodytica, also known as Baranis, was a fledgling port city on the Red Sea in ancient Egypt. The remains of seven “huddled” skeletons in a tomb complex have been discovered at Berenice Troglodytica by Polish archaeologists, reports PAP.

Ancient Egypt’s Berenice Troglodytica, also called Baranis, was a young port city on the Red Sea. Polish archaeologists have found seven “huddled” skeletons in a network of tombs in Berenice Troglodytica, according to PAP. These seven individuals were buried in stone boxes with the bones of the lower limbs resting on the chest, which the archaeologists said was an extremely unusual burial method. The tomb complex, which has been dated to 1500 years ago, included the skeletons in a number of layers of various strata.

Berenice Troglodytica And Its Links To Trade Routes to India

“This is not a natural position. In order to achieve it, the deceased had to be bound with ropes or tied with cloth,” according to Dr. Mariusz Gwiazda, director of the Center for Mediterranean Archeology at the University of Warsaw and team leader of the Berenice Troglodytica study project. The corpse would have folded in on itself as a result of the rope being knotted around the legs and neck. A mother and kid were practically buried together in one of the graves. The items and burial ware discovered in these graves provided unequivocal proof that the deceased were elite members of this civilization.

Berenice Troglodytica is the focus of Dr. Gwiazda’s research, as is Prof. Steven Sidebotham of the University of Delaware in the United States. Interestingly, Dr. Gwiazda was able to interpret this discovery by looking at the writings of Agatarchides of Cnidus, a Greek historian and philosopher who lived in the 2nd century BC. Agatarchides detailed the burial practices of the tribes of the Eastern Desert, adding that the deceased’s legs and neck were bound with threads to cause the body to stoop. Dr. Gwiazda reportedly remarked, “Perhaps it was the same in this case,” as reported by the PAP.

These finely worked carnelian beads were found in one of the Berenice Troglodytica tombs and clearly point to elite status and long-distance trade. (M. G. Gwiazda / Center of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw)

These finely worked carnelian beads were found in one of the Berenice Troglodytica tombs and clearly point to elite status and long-distance trade. ( M. G. Gwiazda / Center of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw )

The deceased’s high social position was determined by the raw resources that had traveled to Berenice from contemporary Pakistan, India, and the Indonesian islands. Onyx and carnelian beads with elaborate carvings, ivory rings (from the Egyptian-Sudanese border), earrings, and silver bracelets were also included. It is yet too early to tell whether these funerals took place all at once or over the course of several days or weeks. The deceased were arranged in four distinct levels, one beneath the other. Upper Egypt and Nubia both had tomb fittings from this time period that were comparable, including their architectural designs.

The Blemmyes, a nomadic Nubian tribe from the rugged Eastern Desert, lived in Berenice Troglodytica between the fourth and sixth century AD. By dominating the region east of the Nile, the Blemmyes had separated themselves from the other Mediterranean empires of the time (between modern-day Ethiopia and Berenice Troglodytica).

As the Nubians served as middlemen between the Byzantines and the communities in the Indian Ocean region, trade flourished during this period (as the elite burial goods clearly reveal). During this time, the Red Sea region and surrounding areas were generally prosperous and peaceful.

One of the Berenice Troglodytica project archaeologists excavating one of the seven elite tombs recently discovered at the site. ( M. G. Gwiazda / Center of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw )

Revealed: The Unusual Burial Habits of Non-Egyptian Peoples

“The burial habits of the community of Berenice have been shrouded in mystery until now. We wanted to fill this gap,” said Dr. Gwiazda. The unplanned nature of the tomb—a departure from the ancient burial practices previously discovered in Egypt—worked in their favor. In fact, Egypt is well known for its meticulously organized funerals, especially for the rich.

Ptolemy II founded Berenice Troglodytica in the third century BC, and it served largely as a hub for the importation of African elephants by the Romans. Four hundred years later, the Romans retook control of the commercial hub of Berenice and incorporated it into the trade networks connecting North Africa, Western Asia, and India.

The same excavations also provided the researchers with evidence of ancient funerary rituals. A platform with animal remains – the vertebrae of sacrificial goats or sheep – were found at the site. The platform had multiple bowls for offerings, and several upside-down amphorae, which were used during rituals. Small water storage bottles that keep the temperature inside the bottle cool, used by the Arabs, were also found on the same platform.

The main lesson learned from these findings is that we are now learning more about the indigenous populations of this area rather than just the Greco-Roman and post-Roman components of Berenice Troglodytica. Nearly nothing was previously known about the lifestyles and burial practices of the Blemmyes at Berenice. However, our knowledge has increased.

More beads discovered inside a tomb near Berenice Troglodytica. (M.G Gwiazda / CAŚ/ PAP)

At Berenice Troglodytica, an amazing 2,000-year-old animal cemetery was discovered a few years ago. It seems that monkeys were transported from India, used as mascots, and then buried on the outskirts of the city. Also given similar burial practices were dogs and cats.

During 1994 excavations, it was discovered that some of the early traders at Berenice originated from the Indian Tamil region, Sri Lanka, and the Malabar Coast of India. As the Polish study initiative progresses, more information about the unique history of this nascent colony will undoubtedly be discovered.