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Ten mummified crocodiles appear in an Egyptian cemetery – 01/23/2023 – Science

At first glance, you might think that the picture is taken from Live crocodiles move stealthily across the mud. But animals mummiesprobably died more than 2,500 years ago and was preserved in rituals, perhaps in honor of Sobek, the fertility deity worshiped in ancient Egypt.

The mummies were among 10 adult crocodiles, likely of two different species, whose remains were recently exhumed from a tomb in Qubbet al-Hawa, West bank of the Nile River. The discovery was detailed in the journal PLoS ONE last Wednesday (18).

Crocodile played an important role in Egyptian culture for thousands of years. In addition to being associated with a deity, it was a source of food, and parts of the animal, such as its fat, were used as medicine to treat body aches and stiffness and even Baldness.

Mummified animals, including ibises, cats, and baboons, are often found in Egyptian tombs. Mummified remains of crocodiles have been found, but most were young or young. Moreover, the discoveries in this new study were in good shape.

“I mostly deal with fragments and broken things,” said Pia de Cowper, an archaeologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and co-author of the study. “Knowing that you have ten crocodiles in a grave is special.”

She was summoned to Qubbat al-Hawa by a team of researchers led by Alejandro Jimenez Serrano, an Egyptologist at the University of Jaen in Spain. In 2018, researchers discovered seven small tombs under a rubbish dump dating back to the Byzantine era. In one of the tombs — sandwiched between the dumping site and four human burials believed to date back to around 2100 BC — were mummified crocodiles.

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De Cupere studies everything, including bones, teeth, and shells, as well as coprolites, or fossilized feces, and animal tracks. “Archaeologists excavate, and if they find animal remains that they consider worthy of examination, we get involved,” said de Cooper.

Of the ten mummified crocodile remains found, five were just heads while the other five were in various states of completion, but one, over 2.1 meters long, was nearly complete.

mostly, Animal and human mummies They were found wrapped in linen bandages cemented with resin, prompting scientists to use CT scans or X-rays to see the material. Qubbat al-Hawa’s crocodiles had no resin, and the only flax fragments present were almost entirely consumed by insects, allowing the researchers to study the mummies at the excavation site.

Based on the shape of the skull and how the bony plates, or shields, of the animals were arranged, the team hypothesized that most of the crocodiles in the tomb appeared to be from species Crocodylus like, while others were Crocodylus niloticus. Salima Ikram, an Egyptologist at the American University in Cairo, who was not involved in the study, said that gathering this kind of information made it clear that the ancient Egyptians understood the different behaviors of the two species they wanted to interact with, “because niloticus You will eat it, while with like “You can swim in the same pool and get out alive,” Ikram said.

The lack of resin also indicated that the crocodiles might have been mummified by burying them in the hot sandy soil, where it dried naturally before being buried, which the researchers suggested happened before the Ptolemaic period, which lasted from 332 BC to 30 BC. B.C.E.

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“From the Ptolemaic period onwards, they used large amounts of resin,” said de Cooper.

The team hypothesized that the crocodile mummies were buried around the fifth centuryy BC, when Animal mummification is becoming more and more popular in Egypt. But it would take radiocarbon dating to find out for sure. The researchers hope that, in the near future, they will be able to perform this dating, as well as DNA analyzes to verify the two species.

“The discovery of these mummies offers us new insights about… Ancient Egyptian religion and treatment of these animals As a show,” said Jimenez Serrano.

Ikram also believes that these discoveries are an important window on the relationship between people and the Qubbet al-Hawa cemetery, from the oldest burials more than 4,000 years ago to the present day. Ikram said, “In society, how were these tombs viewed? What were their uses?”

Translated by Luis Roberto M. Gonsalves