A Roman tomb riddled with ‘dead nails’ and sealed 2,000 years ago to protect the living from the ‘restless dead’ has opened in Turkey.
Archaeologists believe that the individuals who closed the vault deliberately threw 41 bent and twisted nails onto the ground.
They then sealed it in a way that indicated their fear that the person inside might haunt them, with 24 stones carefully placed on the still smoldering pyre, and a layer of lime plaster on top.
The individual — an adult male — was cremated and buried in the same spot, which researchers say was unusual in Roman times.
The unusual tomb was found at the archaeological site of Sagalassos in southwestern Turkey and dates from 100 to 150 AD.
Mystery: A Roman tomb riddled with magical ‘dead nails’ and sealed 2,000 years ago to protect the living from the ‘restless dead’ has opened in Turkey
Excavated: Archaeologists believe the civilization that closed the vault intentionally left 41 bent and twisted spikes on the ground. They also discovered the burnt remains of a bone, shards of glass and a coin from southern Turkey from the 2nd century AD.
“The burial ended with not one, not two, but three different ways that can be understood as attempts to protect the living from the dead – or vice versa,” says first author Johan Claeys, an archaeologist at the Catholic University of Leuven. in Belgium, told Live Science.
WHAT WAS FOUND IN THE 2000 YEAR OLD TOMB?
- 41 curved and twisted nails
- 24 stones
- A layer of lime plaster
- The burnt remains of a bone
- Shards of broken glass
- A coin from Turkey from the 2nd century AD
While cremation in place, covering tiles or plaster and curved nails are all practices known from Roman era cemeteries, Mr Claeys said the combination of the three had not been seen before.
He added that it suggested a fear of the “restless dead.”
The authors added in their paper: ‘The cremated human remains were not recovered, but buried on site, surrounded by a number of deliberately bent nails and carefully sealed under a series of tiles and a layer of lime.
“Textual and archaeological parallels can be found elsewhere in the ancient Mediterranean world for each of these practices, collectively suggesting that magical beliefs were at work.”
Traditionally, cremations in Roman times involved a pyre followed by the collection of the cremains, which were placed in an urn and buried in a tomb or placed in a mausoleum.
But based on the anatomical positioning of the remaining bones in Sagalassos, researchers were able to decipher that it was performed in place.
The tomb was sealed in a way that indicated they feared the person inside would haunt them, with 24 stones on the still smoldering pyre and a layer of lime plaster on top.
These are the bone fragments uncovered from the tomb by archaeologists
Unusual practice: Among the discoveries were a number of bent and twisted nails (photo)
However, there were still some typical funerary items such as a coin, ceramic and glass vessels, the fragments of a woven basket and food remains.
These suggest that the man was loved, the researchers said. They think he was probably buried by relatives, only in an unconventional way that would have taken days to prepare and execute.
For example, it could be a form of magical ritual that was an “impromptu response to perceived “unnatural” illness and death.”
The authors added: ‘The combination of nails and stones, designed to restrain the dead with the sealing effect of the lime, strongly implies a fear of the restless dead.
This image shows where the bone fragments came from on the dead man’s skeleton
The unusual tomb was found at the archaeological site of Sagalassos in southwestern Turkey and dates from 100 to 150 AD
Investigators believe the man was likely buried by relatives, only in an unconventional manner that would have taken days to prepare and conduct the burial.
While cremation in place, tile or plaster coverings and curved nails are all practices known from Roman-era cemeteries, experts said the combination of the three had not been seen before
“Regardless of whether the cause of death was traumatic, mysterious, or possibly the result of contagious disease or punishment, it appears that the dead are vengeful and the living fear the return of the deceased.”
Sagalassos, which was occupied from the fifth century BC to the 13th century AD, has a number examples of Roman-era architecture, including a theater and bath complex.
When it was abandoned, the city was overrun with vegetation that in turn sustained it for centuries.
The new study is published in the journal Antiquity.
CRUCIFIX EXPLAINED: HOW PAINFUL WAS IT AND WHEN WAS IT USED AS A DEATH PENALTY?
Pictured: A 19th-century illustration of rebels being crucified by the Carthaginians in 283 BC
What is Crucifixion?
Crucifixion was an ancient method of punishment – commonly associated with the Romans, but also practiced by the Carthaginians, Macedonians and the Persians.
The name for the procedure literally means “attached to a cross,” and it’s the etymological root of the word “unbearable” — literally, a pain so severe it looks like it’s “uncrucified.”
A victim would eventually die of suffocation or exhaustion and it was long, drawn out and painful.
The law was used to publicly humiliate slaves and criminals – with the aim of deterring witnesses from committing similar acts – as well as a method of execution applied to persons of very low status or those whose crime was against the state.
This is the reason given in the Gospels for the crucifixion of Jesus.
As King of the Jews, Jesus challenged the rule of the Roman Empire (Matt 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19-22).
Crucifixion can be performed in a number of ways.
In the Christian tradition, the limbs are believed to be nailed to the wood of the cross, with the debate centering on whether nails would pierce the hands or the more structurally sound wrists.
But Romans didn’t always nail crucifixion victims to their crosses, sometimes tying them with rope instead.
Other forms of the practice included having victims tied to a tree – or even impaled to a stake.
The Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger even wrote of seeing crosses “not only of one kind, but made in many different ways: some have their victims with their heads to the ground; some impale their genitals; others stretch out their arms on the gallows.’
Until recently, the only archaeological evidence for the practice of nailing crucifixion victims was an ankle bone from the tomb of Johanan, a man executed in the first century AD.
Why is there so little evidence for that?
The victims were normally criminals and their bodies were often thrown into rubbish dumps, meaning archaeologists never see their bones.
Identification is further complicated by carrion scratches.
The nails were generally believed to have magical properties.
This meant that they rarely left in the victim’s heel and the holes they left behind could be mistaken for punctures.
Most of the damage was largely on soft tissue, so the bone damage may not have been that significant.
Finally, wooden crosses often do not survive because they deteriorate or end up being reused.