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  • Tags: Sarcophagus

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Samtavro cemetery is the largest known in the Caucasus. It covers about 20 hectares and the later burials are placed on top of earlier ones. It is therefore a multi-period cemetery and has been called a ‘multi-terraced’ cemetery. The Bronze to Iron Age levels of the site contain 23 Middle Bronze Age graves (of which four are kurgans) (4,500 to 3,600 years ago); 14 from the transition from the Middle Bronze Age to the Late Bronze Age; 63 from the Late Bronze Age (3,600 to 2,900 years ago) and about 560 from the Early Iron Age (2,900 to 2,500 years ago).

The visible remains of tombs on the site, which you can see today, are from the Classical and Early Medieval periods. The Bronze Age remains which have been discovered are closer to the road, by the entrance to the site. The Classical and Early Medieval burials have a variety of forms. Over 1,000 graves have been discovered from the Roman period (C1st BCE to C4th CE). Some are sarcophagi, whilst others are cists – a rectangular grave lined with stone slabs. Other types are made from roof tiles instead of stone slabs or use pieces of stone from buildings. Some burials are in pits or in Qvevri (terracotta jars), and some are of mixed construction of brick, stone or tile. The majority are tile tombs, containing an individual inhumation, with varied grave goods such as jewellery, but no tools or weapons.

Type: Archaeological Site
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Roman Sarcophagus

This limestone sarcophagus is unfinished as the wreath is roughly blocked out in the lower part of the tomb, but the eagle on the lid looks relatively well finished.

Type: Museum Exhibit
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Sarcophagus with mythological figures and swags

This limestone sarcophagus is decorated with mythological figures and stylised foliate swags.

Type: Museum Exhibit
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Roman Sarcophagus

This Roman sarcophagus in the gardens of the National Museum illustrates the working methods of Roman artisans as the decoration is roughly blocked out but crucially left unfinished so that the purchaser could dictate exactly how they wanted the object to be completed.

Type: Museum Exhibit
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View east over the site of the church

This view shows the sarcophagus in the foreground and looks east to a plastered iconostasis and steps up to the sanctuary. Beyond that is the chamber where the sick are believed to have stayed for three days and three nights and prayed for a cure.

Type: Archaeological Excavation
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The sarcophagus with metal bands to hold the object together

When the walls and base on which the sarcophagus had been standing were removed, cloth-wrapped metal bands were secured around the objects to keep it together and make sure that the tomb remained stable.

Type: Sculpture
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Details of the Byzantine sarcophagus once the surrounding walls have been dismantled

This shows details of the Byzantine sarcophagus once it has been cleared of rubble and cleaned up. Amongst the pilgrimage graffiti a star of David was discovered with two Hebrew characters, suggesting that at some point Jewish, as well as Christian and Muslim pilgrims venerated the holy man buried at the site. A number of Syriac and Arabic inscriptions on the tomb have been published in epigraphic surveys of Syria.

Type: Sculpture
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Details of clearing the walls and other debris around the sarcophagus of Mar Elian

These pictures show the clearing away of the walls and debris that abutted the sarcophagus of Mar Elian. This was necessary due to the damp that was permeating the tomb from the north wall. In this pictures the darker soil in the pictures shows where the earth was still damp even in the summer heat of the Syrian desert.

Type: Archaeological Excavation
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View north west over the former church site

This picture shows the footprint of the 1938 church, with the sarcophagus protected by wooden boards to the left of the picture.

Type: Archaeological Excavation
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Views of the Byzantine sarcophagus after the 1938 church was dismantled

It was the dampness around the sarcophagus of Mar Elian that first led to the structural survey that revealed that the 1938 church was unstable. The cement skim on the roof was uneven and pushed the east and west walls outwards. In addition mud brick walls above a stone foundation had been clad in cement. When water penetrated cracks in the cement, the walls could not breathe and this caused the damp and instability in the church.

Type: Archaeological Excavation
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