‘Meat-eating’ sarcophagi in Turkey turned bodies into skeletons in 40 days

In the ancient city of Assos in Turkey, there was a strange phenomenon – stone sarcophagi in the necropolis of Assos could decompose bodies at an unusual speed. Instead of taking between 50 and 200 years for the bodies inside to disintegrate, they only took 40 days. Consequently, they became known as σαρκο φαγοσ (‘sarko fagos’) in Greek, which translates to ‘flesh eater’, and it was from this interpretation that the word ‘sarcophagus’ arose.

Assos is a small, historically rich town in the province of Çanakkale in Turkey, founded from 1000 to 900 BC by Aeolian settlers from Lesbos. Settlers built a Doric temple to Athena atop the rock in 530 BC, from which Hermias, a student of Plato, ruled the region, bringing great prosperity and turning Assos into a center for some of the greatest philosophers of the world. world. It was here that Aristotle married the Pythia in 348 BC. This “golden period” of Assos ended several years later when the Persians arrived and then tortured Hermias to death. The Persians were driven out by Alexander the Great in 334 BC. It was then ruled for a century by the Pergamon kings, before they lost control of the city and it was absorbed into the Roman Empire.

The first sarcophagi appear in the necropolis of Assos in the 5 e century BC. They were simple andesite stone coffins with a flat lid on top. In Roman times they became more ornate.

The sarcophagi seem to have been recognized very early for their unique characteristics and were widely traded from the port of Assos, to Rome and Egypt.

Scientists still don’t fully understand what properties of the stone cause the bodies within to decay rapidly, but research is underway to unravel the mystery of Assos’ “meat-eating” sarcophagi.

Top image: Flesh-eating sarcophagus, Assos, Turkey. Source: Häferlkaffee / Twitter

By Joanna Gillan

Sharon P. Juarez