The remains of one of the most notorious epidemics to have hit the region—one so bad that it killed two Roman emperors and was labeled “the end of the world” plague—were uncovered in Luxor, archaeologists announced earlier this week.
According to Live Science, the team of scientists were working at the Funerary Complex of Harwa and Akhimenru between 1997 and 2012 in the west bank of the ancient city of Thebes (now known as Luxor) when they came across a body-disposal factory and a large bonfire with human remains. Nearby, the remains of what used to be kilns where lime—an ancient disinfectant—was produced were also found.
The site appears to be where bodies infected with the plague—whose nature remains mysterious but could very well be either smallpox or measles—were destroyed. The bodies, when they were found, were covered in thick layers of lime, and are believed to belong to plague victims.
The discovery was made by the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor, otherwise known as MAIL, and was made public this week.
Pottery remains found in the kilns allowed the researchers to date the grisly body-disposal operation to the third century, says Live Science, a time when a series of epidemics historically named the “Plague of Cyprian” had ravaged the Roman Empire, which Egypt was part of at the time.
The science news hub quoted Francesco Tiradritti, director of the MAIL, as saying that the plague had occurred roughly between A.D. 250-271 and was said to have offed more than 5,000 people a day in Rome alone.
In Egypt, the bodies of victims of the epidemic were apparently burnt at a seventh century B.C. complex that was originally built for a grand steward named Hawra but after its use during the plague, it gained a bad reputation. Back then, Saint Cyprian, a bishop of Carthage, gave a graphic description of how the disease ravaged its victims, believing that the world was coming to an end.
“It killed two Emperors, Hostilian in A.D. 251 and Claudius II Gothicus in A.D. 270,” Live Science quoted Tiradritti as saying. It is “a generally held opinion that the ‘Plague of Cyprian’ seriously weakened the Roman Empire, hastening its fall.”