At first glance, you could think you’re an image of living crocodiles moving stealthily through mud. However the animals above are mummies, possibly dead for greater than 2,500 years and preserved in a ritual that likely honored Sobek, a fertility deity worshiped in ancient Egypt.
The mummies were amongst 10 adult crocodiles, likely from two different species, the stays of which were unearthed recently from a tomb at Qubbat al-Hawa on the west bank of the Nile River. The invention was detailed within the journal PLoS ONE on Wednesday.
The crocodile has played a very important role in Egyptian culture for 1000’s of years. Along with being linked to a deity, it was a food source, and parts of the animal, like its fat, were used as medicine to treat body pains, stiffness and even balding.
Mummified animals, including ibises, cats and baboons, are relatively common finds in Egyptian tombs. Other mummified crocodile stays have been dug up, but most have been juveniles or hatchlings; moreover, those discovered on this recent study were in great shape.
“More often than not I’m coping with fragments, with broken things,” said Bea De Cupere, an archaeozoologist on the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and a co-author of the study. “To listen to you’ve got 10 crocodiles in a tomb. That’s special.”
She was called to the Qubbat al-Hawa site by a research team led by Alejandro Jiménez Serrano, an Egyptologist from the University of Jaén in Spain. In 2018, researchers uncovered seven small tombs under a Byzantium-era rubbish dump. In one among the tombs — sandwiched between the dump site and 4 human burials believed to be from around 2100 B.C. — were the mummified crocodiles.
Dr. De Cupere studies all the things including bones, teeth and shells in addition to coprolites, or fossilized feces, and animal prints. “You’ve archaeologists doing an excavation and, in the event that they find animal stays that they think are price , that’s after we come into the image,” Dr. De Cupere said.
Of the ten mummified adult crocodile stays found, five were just heads and the opposite five were in various states of completion, but one, at over seven feet long, was nearly complete. Often animal and human mummies are found wrapped in linen bandages secured by resin, which implies scientists use techniques like CT scans or X-rays to see through the fabric. The Qubbat al-Hawa crocodiles contained no resin, and the one fragments of linen present had been all but entirely eaten by insects, allowing the researchers to check the mummies on the excavation site.
Based on skull shape and the way the bony plates, or scutes, on the animals were arranged, the team hypothesized that the vast majority of crocodiles within the tomb seemed to be one species, Crocodylus suchus, while others were Crocodylus niloticus. Salima Ikram, an Egyptologist on the American University in Cairo who was not involved within the study, said that gathering this sort of information provided insight into ancient Egyptian understanding of the distinct behaviors of those two species and which the Egyptians would wish to interact with, “because niloticus will eat you, whereas with suchus, you’ll be able to conceivably swim in the identical pool and live,” Dr. Ikram said.
A scarcity of resin also indicated that the crocodiles were probably mummified by being buried in the new, sandy soil, where they dried out naturally before being entombed, which the researchers proposed happened before the Ptolemaic period, which lasted between 332 B.C. and 30 B.C.
“From the Ptolemaic period onward, they used huge quantities of resin,” Dr. De Cupere said.
The team hypothesized that the crocodile mummies were buried across the fifth century B.C., when animal mummification was increasingly popular in Egypt. But it should take radiocarbon dating to know needless to say. The researchers hope that, within the near future, there might be a probability to perform such dating, in addition to DNA evaluation to confirm the 2 species.
“The invention of those mummies offers us recent insights into ancient Egyptian religion and the treatment of those animals as an offering,” said Dr. Jiménez Serrano.
Dr. Ikram also views these discoveries as a very important window into the connection between people and the Qubbat al-Hawa necropolis, from the primary burials over 4,000 years ago to the current day. “Inside the community, how were these tombs viewed? What were their uses?” Dr. Ikram said. “You’re seeing how these tombs had after lives and lives.”