Mysterious 'dead nails' found in ancient burial site

It is believed that the individual buried in this peculiar cremation burial was most likely interred by his family in a ceremony
Nergis Firtina
Some of the content of the primary creamation
Some of the content of the primary creamation

A 2,000-year-old tomb in Turkey was blocked off with bricks and plaster and coated in "dead nails," probably to "protect the living from the dead.

Found in Sagalassos archaeological site, a lime plaster coating surrounded the tomb's cremation pyre, 24 carefully placed bricks, and 41 bent and twisted nails placed randomly along the edges of the pyre, as per Live Science.

The person, an adult male, was cremated and interred in the exact location, which was uncommon in Roman times.

"The burial was closed off with not one, not two, but three different ways that can be understood as attempts to shield the living from the dead — or the other way around," study first author Johan Claeys, an archaeologist at Catholic University Leuven (KU Leuven) in Belgium, told Live Science.

Mysterious 'dead nails' found in ancient burial site
Cranial and mandibular fragments.

Burials outside the town were excavated as part of the Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project and examined, including the "non-normative cremation."

Roman cremations typically consisted of a funeral pyre, the gathering of the cremains, placement in an urn, and burial in a cemetery or mausoleum. Yet, the researchers determined from the anatomical arrangement of the remaining bones that the Sagalassos cremation was carried out on the spot.

Claeys believes that his family most likely interred the individual buried in this peculiar cremation burial in a ceremony that required days to plan and execute. It is easiest to think of the beliefs that prompted people in Sagalassos to bury this man unusually as a type of magic or action meant to have a particular result because of a supernatural connection.

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"Regardless of whether the cause of death was traumatic, mysterious or potentially the result of a contagious illness or punishment, the researchers concluded in the study, it appears to have left "the living fearful of the deceased's return," Claeys added.

Study abstract:

Many thousands of burials have been excavated from across the Roman world, documenting a variety of funerary practices and rites. Individual burials, however, sometimes stand out for their atypical characteristics. The authors report the discovery of a cremation burial from ancient Sagalassos that differs from contemporaneous funerary deposits. In this specific context, the cremated human remains were not retrieved but buried in situ, surrounded by a scattering of intentionally bent nails, and carefully sealed beneath a raft of tiles and a layer of lime. For each of these practices, textual and archaeological parallels can be found elsewhere in the ancient Mediterranean world, collectively suggesting that magical beliefs were at work.

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