Israeli authorities have recovered an impressive Roman-era sarcophagus that construction workers tried to conceal after stumbling upon it at a building site, Israel’s Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced on Thursday.
The 1,800-year-old stone coffin, which the IAA describes as one of the most important and beautiful ever discovered in the country, is sculpted on all sides, weighs two tons and is 2.5 meters (8 feet) long. A life-sized figure of a person is carved on the lid.
The sarcophagus was recovered in the southern coastal city of Ashkelon during an overnight operation between Tuesday and Wednesday. IAA inspectors noticed the finely decorated coffin was severely damaged when building contractors improperly removed it from the ground.
“They decided to hide it, pulled it out of the ground with a tractor while aggressively damaging it,” the IAA wrote in a statement.
The sarcophagus was then hidden beneath a stack of sheet metal and boards.
“The contractors poured a concrete floor in the lot so as to conceal any evidence of the existence of the antiquities site,” the IAA said.
According to Amir Ganor, head of the Inspection Department at the Israel Antiquities Authority, building permission was given on condition that any discovery of antiquities in the area would be reported.
“In this case, the building contractors chose to hide the rare artifact and their action has caused painful damage to history. Legal proceedings will now be taken against those involved, thereby leading to a delay in construction and related expenditures,” Ganor said in a statement.
According to archaeologist Gaby Mazor, the sarcophagus was likely made for a wealthy Roman family.