One of the cemeteries consists almost entirely of adult males and was probably used by the monks from the monastery, Stark said. Two cemeteries contain a wider mix of individuals and appear to have been used by people who lived in nearby settlements. The fourth cemetery was discovered recently by archaeologists and contains only 15 burials - and some of those have features that are unusual.
In all four of the cemeteries the remains of stone structures were found on the surface, above the burials, Stark said, adding that some of these structures have the remains of tombstones.
The writing on the tombstones tended to follow a particular format. "To make it simple. The writing on tombstones can be divided into two parts," Artur Obluski, the director of the excavations at al-Ghazali, told Live Science in an email.
The first part consisted of prayers, which included "a prayer for the soul of the deceased, a prayer to the Providence of God, the God himself often described as merciful," Obluski said. These prayers ask "that the soul will be taken care of and can rest on the bosom of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or in the world of the Living."
The second part of the tombstone engravings "contains some individual information of the deceased: his name, age at the time of death, sometimes titles he bore during his life time - so-called cursus honorum - and professions he performed," said Obluski.
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The graves in the more recently uncovered cemetery showed some unusual features, Stark said.
One burial contains a mix of bones with cut marks from two individuals; an analysis of the bones indicates that the cut marks were incised around the time that the two individuals died.
"All the indicators [are] that this happened when the bones were still quite fresh," Stark said during his presentation, noting that there are no signs that the bones were made by scavenging animals. It's possible that the cut marks were created during some form of defleshing, Stark said.
There were other individuals in the cemetery who were found to be buried in unusual ways. For instance, one person's legs were lying at a 45-degree angle, with the person's right arm dangling across his or her head. This person was buried in a "haphazard" way, Stark said, despite the fact that the person's grave was neatly dug into the ground and a stone structure was apparently built above it.
Original article on Live Science.