Laying at the bottom of an ancient rock tomb, the remains of giant mummified crocodiles have been unearthed. While it’s not uncommon to find mummified animals at ancient Egyptian sites, this bask of crocodiles has been mummified in a particularly unusual way that’s caught the eye of archaeologists.
The mummified remains of five isolated skulls and five partial skeletons were found by archaeologists in rock tombs at the site of Qubbat al-Hawā on the west bank of the Nile which dates to around the 5th Century BCE.
“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,” the study authors said in a statement.
Museums are stacked full of mummified crocodiles, but very few have been subjected to detailed scientific snooping because they are often slathered in resin or bitumen, making their innards extremely tough to image.
As for the mummification process of these recent finds, it looks like the animals were wrapped in linen bandages or palm leaves. Typically, mummified crocodiles are mummified by being slathered and pumped full of resin to keep decomposition at bay. Fortunately, this set of crocs doesn’t show any evidence of resin use, which is both unusual and very useful for the purposes of imaging.
Instead, the researchers believe the crocodiles were laid in the sand which allowed the bodies to dry out naturally. This method left most of the specimens in a pretty poor state even at the time of burial, although one remains in such good condition its skin and soft tissues are still intact.
With the help of CT scans and radiography, the team was able to peer beneath their mummified outer case without having to physically unwrap the remains and risk damaging them. This revealed the mummies were of two separate species: West African and Nile crocodiles, ranging in length from 1.5 to 3.5 meters (5 to over 11 feet).
Oddly, the crocodiles don’t show any signs of physical injuries, leading the researchers to speculate they had been killed by drowning, suffocation, or being overheated in the hot Egyptian sun. Likewise, it’s also unclear how these ferocious predators were caught since crocodile specimens often show signs of damage from being lassoed and roped.
By whatever means they were captured, it looks like the ancient Egyptians were certainly keen to have crocodiles as part of their journey to the afterlife. There were likely an array of reasons for this across the ages, but a recurring idea is that they used the bodies as gifts to the crocodile gods, such as the reptile-headed Sobek, as a way of currying favor with these dangerous Nile-dwelling beasts.
The new study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.