This 3,000-year-old horse got a human-style burial

More than 3,000 years ago in the Nile River Valley, a body was carefully prepared for ceremonial burial. It was wrapped in a shroud and placed in a tomb, surrounded by important objects that demonstrated its elevated status.

The mourners probably had long faces as they sent their loved one to an eternal rest.

But the longest face of all likely belonged to the grave’s occupant — a chariot-pulling horse, who was important enough to merit an ornate burial typically reserved for high-ranking people.

Scientists first unearthed the horse in 2011 in Tombos, a site located in the Nile Valley in what is now Sudan. The skeleton dates to around 949 B.C., and it is thought to be the most compete horse skeleton from that period ever found, according to a new study describing the grave and its contents, published online April 25 in Antiquity Journal. [Ancient Nubia: A Brief History]

The ancient Egyptians established Tombos around 1450 B.C. as a foreign outpost in the rival kingdom of Nubia. The city later emerged as an important Nubian community after withdrawing from Egyptian rule. Artifacts unearthed from archaeological sites in Tombos reveal much about the influence of Egyptian culture, as well as serve to illuminate aspects of daily life that were distinctly Nubian, the scientists wrote in the study.

When the site was first excavated, archaeologists found a tomb complex with a chapel and pyramid aboveground, and a shaft leading to multiple chambers underground — a design typically associated with “elite” pyramid tombs, according to the study. The four burial chambers contained human remains from around 200 people representing several generations, along with pottery, tools and decorative objects.

However, the tomb held very few animal remains, and finding such a well-preserved horse — in the shaft underneath the chapel, at a depth of about 5 feet (1.6 meters) — surprised the scientists, study co-author Michelle Buzon, a bioarchaeologist in the Department of Anthropology at Purdue University, said in a statement.

“It was clear that the horse was an intentional burial, which was super fascinating,” Buzon said.

Bits of chestnut fur with white markings still clung to the animal’s lower hind legs, and the researchers found decayed remnants of a shroud that helped them to date the burial to between 1,005 and 893 B.C., they wrote in the study. The tomb shaft around the skeleton also revealed other artifacts that hinted at the horse’s status, including a carved scarab beetle and a piece of ir