|The Parthian coffin is made of reddish brown clay broken by plaster patches. From above it seems to form an oval pinched at one end to a narrow point. From the side it looks like a slipper with a hole for the lid in the location where the ankle would leave the shoe. Photo by Paul Jaronski, Photo Services|
Among the stacks of handwritten field notes and diaries left by the original excavators, Pestle had found only a brief mention of a small coffin containing the remains of two infants. Pestle and Museum Registrar Robin Meador-Woodruff, located the coffin looking nothing like they expected. The coffins shape is reminiscent of a ballet slipper, Pestle says, narrower at one end than the other, with a hole in the wide end to accommodate the lid.
When the small circular lid was removed, the coffin revealed a jumble of bones piled along with peanut shells, cotton, straw packing material and pieces of paper with both English and Arabic script. This was evidence that the contents had been disturbed, Pestle says.
The mix revealed unburned human skeletal remains that contradicted the field notes. The coffin contained four individuals, none of whom was an infant. Pestle determined that one of the individuals was 1215 years of age and possibly male, a second 68 years of age and of indeterminate sex. Pestle determined the third individual to be 46 years of age and of indeterminate sex and the fourth to be an adult male.
Pestle says the coffin lacks any obvious decoration, in contrast to coffins found at other Parthian sites. But under raking light, Pestle did find incised lines on both the lid and the top that formed symbols of an unknown nature. He dates the coffin at about 143 BCE48CE.
One unanswered question raised by Pestles examination of the coffin and its contents is why so many individuals were present in such a small funerary container. Perhaps the individuals here interred were part of a family group, Pestle says, or they may have been siblings. Still, Pestle speculates, there could have been a reburial of these individuals, or the primary inhabitant of the coffin could have been exposed for the purpose of defleshing prior to burial and when the remains returned to the coffin, fragments of other individuals were mistakenly included.
While all of these are possibilities, Pestle says, a definitive answer is almost impossible to formulate.