A team from the Italian Archaeological Mission in Luxor (MAIL), in 2015, discovered bodies covered with a thick layer of lime. Lime has been used since antiquity as a disinfectant. The researchers found the find during excavations at the Harwa and Akhimenru funerary complex on the western edge of the ancient city of Thebes (now Luxor).
Scientists also discovered three kilns where the lime was burnt, as well as a giant fire containing human remains where victims of the epidemic were burned. The remains of pottery found in the furnaces allowed to date the find to the 3rd century CE.
The above findings indicate that the burial complex was used as a site for mass burials initiated as a result of the then prevailing pandemic. Ancient Rome was plagued by recurring epidemics – probably smallpox, today is known as the “Cyprian’s Plague”. The disease contributed to the fall of the empire, which also included Egypt. The plague was described by St. Cyprian, who was the bishop of Carthage in the 3rd century.
The same plague in 251 could have caused the death of Hostilian – the son of Emperor Decius, but also of the later Emperor Claudius Got in 270. The significance of this catastrophe and the scale of the number of victims was emphasized by the director of the Italian Archaeological Mission, Francesco Tiradritti. In the last edition of the “Egyptian Archeology” magazine he stated that “according to some sources, in Rome alone, this disease was supposed to kill over 5000 people daily”.