Leiden archaeologist discovers unique ancient horse grave in Sudan

A unique archeological find near Tombos in Northern Sudan. Archaeologist Sarah Schrader from Leiden University, working with a team of international researchers, has discovered a grave of a ritually buried horse that is over 3000 years old. Both the grave and the skeleton are in perfect condition. The grave sheds new light on the social importance of this noble animal in ancient times.

Sarah Schrader and her colleagues were actually conducting research on a collection of human graves at the archaeological site of Tombos. However, to their amazement they excavated a tomb containing a horse skeleton. ‘We were amazed to find this excellently preserved horse that had clearly been buried intentionally. No other animal graves were found in the area, so we knew straight away that it had to be something special,’ Schrader commented.

Burial shroud

The horse was buried under a typical pyramid structure with space for more graves. Such tombs are normally intended for human interments. Analysis shows that the horse skeleton is over 3,000 years old (1000 to 900 BC). It is extremely well preserved: no parts of the skeleton are missing and the bones are lying in almost exactly the correct anatomical position. Even parts of the horse’s coat have been preserved. Schrader also discovered a number of burial attributes: a scarab, an iron bit and remnants of some fabric, probably a burial shroud. The remains of the iron bit are one of the oldest fragments of iron ever to be found in Africa.

The skeleton of the horse, as it was excavated in the grave in Tombos, Northern Sudan. (image: Sarah Schrader)

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