A 900-year-old medieval crypt, containing seven naturally mummified bodies and walls covered with inscriptions, has been excavated in a monastery at Old Dongola, the capital of a lost medieval kingdom that flourished in the Nile Valley.
Old Dongola is located in modern-day Sudan, and 900 years ago, it was the capital of Makuria, a Christian kingdom that lived in peace with its Islamic neighbor to the north.
One of the mummies in the crypt (scientists aren't certain which one) is believed to be that of Archbishop Georgios, probably the most powerful religious leader in the kingdom. His epitaph was found nearby and says that he died in A.D. 1113 at the age of 82. [The Science of Death: 10 Tales from the Crypt & Beyond]
The inscriptions on the walls of the crypt, inscribed with black ink on a thin layer of whitewash (paint), were written in Greek and Sahidic Coptic. They include excerpts from the gospels of Luke, John, Mark and Matthew, magical names and signs and a prayer given by the Virgin Mary, at the end of which death appears to her "in the form of a rooster." After Mary dies, according to the text, she ascends to heaven with Jesus.
The inscriptions, written by "Ioannes," who left a signature on three and possibly four of the walls, likely served as protection for the deceased against evil powers, the researchers said.
They were "intended to safeguard not only the tomb, but primarily those who were buried inside of it during the dangerous liminal period between the moment of dying and their appearance before the throne of God," write Adam Lajtar, of the University of Warsaw, and Jacques van der Vliet, of Leiden University, in the most recent edition of the journal Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean.
The crypt contained the bodies of seven older males, no younger than 40, said anthropologist Robert Mahler, a researcher with the University of Warsaw who examined the remains.