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Elaborate ancient coffin discovered in Israel

Israel has unveiled an 1,800-year-old sarcophagus that workers found at a building site and initially tried to conceal.

The Antiquities Authority called the sarcophagus, which was shown to media Thursday, "one of the most important and beautiful" ever found in Israel.

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View of top of Roman-era sarcophagus found in Beit Shemesh, Israel BAZ RATNER, REUTERS

The two-ton limestone coffin features a life-size carving of a human figure wearing a toga on the lid and designs around the sides, including a Medusa head. Archaeologist Gaby Mazor says the piece dates back to the 3rd century and was likely commissioned by a wealthy Roman family.

The sarcophagus "is decorated with, among other things, wreaths and images of bulls' heads, naked cupids, and the head of the monstrous female figure Medusa, which includes remains of hair together with snakes - part of a commonly held belief in the Roman period that she protects the deceased," Mazor said, according to The Jerusalem Post. Mazor said such sarcophagi were usually placed in, or next to, a family mausoleum.

Antiquities Authority Spokeswoman Yoli Shwartz said the sarcophagus was damaged when workers unearthed it at a construction site. Contractors then hid the piece, fearing it would force them to halt work. She said legal action would be taken.

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