While exploring an ancient Egyptian tomb, scientists came upon a strange, somewhat terrifying sight – 10 crocodiles lying calmly in mud. Despite their eerily lifelike appearance, however, they actually died long ago, the revered reptiles mummified by ancient admirers.
Researchers made the scaly discovery on the western bank of the River Nile, the state of the crocodiles shedding light on ancient Egyptian burial practices. In a paper published in PLOS ONE, researchers revealed the results of their investigation.
The most famous revered wildlife in ancient Egypt were cats, including large species such as cheetahs and lions. However, cats were just one of the many creatures worshipped by the Egyptians.
Others included baboons, cobras, falcons, frogs, hippopotamuses, and, as recent discovery proves, crocodiles. Only the most treasured animals went through the painstaking preservation process of mummification.
Ten crocodile mummies, including five more or less complete bodies and five heads, were found in an undisturbed tomb at Qubbat al-Hawā (Aswan, Egypt). The mummies were in varying states of preservation and completeness. pic.twitter.com/lXA3ANfdaS— Ancient Egypt Artifacts (@AncientEgyptArt) January 24, 2023
“The animal mummies were used as votive offerings to the worshipped gods, or were considered to be physical manifestations of the gods,” lead study author Bea De Cupere told Newsweek. “Killing an animal was not a problem if its mummification [allowed the connection of] the human world with the divine sphere.”
While Egyptians believed cats acted as a link between humans and the feline goddess Bastet, crocodiles allowed communication with the ancient Egyptian deity Sobek, the god of fertility.
Crocodile Mummies Discovered in Massive Ancient Egyptian Cemetery
Dome of the Wind, the site in which researchers discovered the mummified crocodiles, has been under excavation since 2008. In that time, scientists unearthed a massive necropolis, its ancient structures dating back 2,500 years. “It is one of the most densely occupied cemeteries of ancient Egypt,” De Cupere said. “Dignitaries of the region were buried here in the tombs cut out of the rocks.”
The discovery of the mummified crocodiles, however, marks the most fascinating yet for scientists. “This is about the most impressive thing that I have ever seen,” De Cupere marveled.
“Most of the time I’m dealing with fragments, with broken things,” the archaeozoologist explained to New York Times. “To hear you have ten crocodiles in a tomb—that’s special.”
Not only are the crocodiles a wondrous site to behold but after thousands of years, the reptiles remain in incredibly pristine condition, allowing researchers a rare look at the reptiles of the past. “The absence of linen bandages and resin allowed us to carry out directly a detailed study of the preserved tissues and bones in all individuals,” De Cupere said.