Warning: This story contains a graphic image of decaying skeletons.
"We've opened it and, thank God, the world has not fallen into darkness."
The mysterious black sarcophagus discovered beneath an Egyptian street has been opened, despite fears from doomsayers it would unleash a curse upon those who dared disrupt its owners' rest.
Found 5m deep by a construction crew in Alexandria earlier this month, the enormous coffin is believed to be at least 2000 years old. Until now, it had never been opened.
But it wasn't easy. When archaeologists appointed by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities pried it open, they had to shut it right away due to the "unbearable stench", reports BBC News.
The site was evacuated over fears the fumes could be toxic. Engineers later went back in and managed to pry the sarcophagus open.
"We found the bones of three people, in what looks like a family burial... Unfortunately the mummies inside were not in the best condition and only the bones remain," said secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Mostafa Waziri.
He quickly dismissed any fears of a curse.
"We've opened it and, thank God, the world has not fallen into darkness. I was the first to put my whole head inside the sarcophagus... and here I stand before you ... I am fine."
It's suspected the skeletons may have belonged to soldiers, as one has cracks in the skull consistent with an arrow injury.
- 'Big void' found inside Egypt's Great Pyramid of Giza
- Ancient Ramses II statue find one of Egypt's 'most important'
They were lying in red-brown sewage water, the source of the pungent fumes. The water may also be why the skeletons were so badly decomposed, rather than preserved as mummies, and appears to have leaked in through a crack in the coffin's side.
No inscriptions were found, so the identities of the skeletons remain a mystery. Facial features on an alabaster head found with the coffin have eroded away, lost to the mists of time. There weren't any precious items buried with them either, suggesting they weren't royalty.
The skeletons will be sent to the National Museum of Alexandria, the sarcophagus repaired, and the surrounding area searched thoroughly for more ancient secrets.