While the world, of course, did not end, the plague weakened the Roman Empire. "It killed two Emperors, Hostilian in A.D. 251 and Claudius II Gothicus in A.D. 270," wrote Tiradritti. It is "a generally held opinion that the 'Plague of Cyprian' seriously weakened the Roman Empire, hastening its fall." (In Photos: 14th-Century 'Black Death' Grave Discovered)
The newly unearthed remains at Luxor underscore the plague's potency. Tiradritti'steam found no evidence that the victims received any sort of religious rites during their incineration. "We found evidence of corpses either burned or buried inside the lime," he told Live Science in an interview. "They had to dispose of them without losing any time."
The plague may have been some form of smallpox or measles, accordingto modern day scientists. While the discovery of human remains associated with the plague will give anthropologists new material to study, Tiradritti cautions they will not be able to extract DNA from the bodies.
While stories about researchers extracting DNA from mummies (such as Tutankhamun) have made headlines in recent years, Tiradritti told Live Science he doesn't believe the results from such ancient specimens. "In a climate like Egypt, the DNA is completely destroyed," he said. DNA breaks down over time, and permafrost (something not found in Egypt) is the best place to find ancient DNA samples, Tiradritti said.
The discovery of the body disposal site is just one part of the team's research. Thebes is a massive site containing a vast necropolis, and the excavations of the MAIL are providing new data that allows scholars to determine how it changed between the seventh century B.C. and today.
The funerary complex of Harwa and Akhimenru, which the MAIL has been excavating since 1995, is one of the largest private funerary monuments of Egypt. Tiradritti notes that it is considered a key monument for studying a peak period in Egyptian art known as the "Pharaonic Renaissance" that lasted from the start of the seventh century B.C. until the mid-sixth century B.C. During this time, Tiradritti notes, artists created innovative new works that were rooted in older Egyptian artistic traditions.