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10 mummified crocodiles emerge from an Egyptian tomb


The animals were preserved in a ritual probably intended to honor Sobek, a fertility deity worshiped in ancient Egypt.

At first glance, you might think they are live crocodiles slinking through the mud.

But the animals are mummies, possibly dead more than 2,500 years ago and preserved in a ritual that likely honored Sobek, a fertility deity revered in ancient Egypt.

The mummies were part of a group of 10 adult crocodiles, probably from two different species, whose remains were recently unearthed in a tomb at Qubbat al-Hawa, on the west bank of the Nile River.

The discovery was published Wednesday in the journal


The crocodile has played an important role in Egyptian culture for thousands of years.

In addition to being linked to a divinity, it was a

source of food

, and parts of the animal, such as its fat, were used as


to treat body aches, stiffness, and even baldness.

Mummified animals, such as ibis, cats, and baboons, are relatively common finds in Egyptian tombs.

Other mummified crocodile remains have been unearthed, but most were juveniles or hatchlings;

Furthermore, those discovered in this new study were in very good condition.

"Most of the time they are fragments, broken things," says Bea De Cupere, an archaeozoologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and co-author of the study.

"Hearing you have 10 crocodiles in a grave. That's special."

She was called to the Qubbat al-Hawa site by a research team led by Alejandro Jiménez Serrano, an Egyptologist at the University of Jaén in Spain.

In 2018, researchers discovered seven small tombs under a Byzantine-era dump.

In one of the tombs - situated between the dump and four human burials believed to date from around 2100 BC - were the mummified crocodiles.

De Cupere studies everything, including bones, teeth, and shells, as well as coprolites, or fossilized feces, and animal tracks.

"Archaeologists do an excavation and if they find animal remains that they think are worth examining, that's when we come on the scene," De Cupere explains.

Of the 10 adult crocodile mummified remains found, five were only heads and the other five were in various states of completion, but one, more than 2 meters long, was almost complete.

Often, animal and human mummies are found wrapped in linen bandages fixed with resin, forcing scientists to use techniques such as

CT scans or X-rays

to see through the material.

The Qubbat al-Hawa crocodiles contained no resin, and the only flax fragments present had been almost completely eaten by insects, allowing the researchers to study the mummies at the excavation site.

Based on the shape of the skull and the arrangement of the animals' bony plates, or scutes, the team hypothesized that most of the crocodiles in the tomb appeared to be of one species,

Crocodylus suchus

, while others were

Crocodylus niloticus


Salima Ikram, an Egyptologist at the American University of Cairo who was not involved in the study, said that collecting this type of information allowed us to better understand how the ancient Egyptians understood the different behaviors of these two species and which one the Egyptians wanted to interact with. "Because the niloticus would eat you, whereas with the suchus, it's conceivable that you could swim in the same pool and live," Ikram said.

The lack of resin also indicated that the crocodiles likely mummified by burying them in hot, sandy soil, where they dried naturally before being buried, which the researchers proposed occurred before the Ptolemaic period, which lasted between 332 BC and 30 BC

"Starting in the Ptolemaic period, large amounts of resin were used," De Cupere explained.

The team's hypothesis is that the crocodile mummies were buried around the fifth century BC, when animal mummification became increasingly popular in Egypt.

But to know for sure, radiocarbon dating will be necessary.

The researchers hope that, in the near future, there will be the possibility of such dating, as well as DNA analysis to verify the two species.

"The discovery of these mummies offers us new perspectives on ancient Egyptian religion and the treatment of these animals as offerings," said Jiménez Serrano.

Ikram also sees these discoveries as an important window into the relationship between the people and the Qubbat al-Hawa necropolis, from the first burials more than 4,000 years ago to the present day.

"Within the community, what did these tombs look like? What were their uses?"

Ikram explains.

"You see how these graves had afterlives."

c.2023 The New York Times Company

Source: clarin

All news articles on 2023-01-19

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