(ORDO NEWS) — Between the burials of ancient Egyptian high officials and priests, someone buried ten dried reptiles. Moreover, they were the object of burial: there are no human remains in their tombs.
In 2019, archaeologists from the University of Jaen (Spain) discovered a tomb with mummies of crocodiles in Qubbat el-Hawa, located near the city of Aswan in southern Egypt. In a small tomb carved into the rock, there were five skulls and five relatively intact large crocodiles.
The tomb is located next to six others, but people without crocodiles are already buried in them.
It is known that Kubbat el-Hava served as a burial place for officials and priests from the Old Kingdom (XXVIII-XXI centuries BC) and up to Roman times.
Radiocarbon dating has not yet been carried out, but according to indirect evidence, the tomb with crocodiles belongs to the pre-Ptolemaic era, that is, earlier than 304 BC.
The find at Qubbat el-Hawa is not the first time archaeologists have unearthed mummified animals. Previously, researchers of ancient Egyptian temples and tombs have already met mummies of cats, birds and the same crocodiles.
Egyptologists explain the choice of these particular creatures by the fact that they were objects of worship, as they were associated with one or another deity.
The crocodile is a symbol of Sebek, the god of water, responsible for the floods of the Nile, as well as scaring away the forces of darkness and protecting people and animals. Initially, Sebek was depicted as a man with the head of a crocodile.
The center of his cult was Shedet (the Greeks later called the city Crocodilopolis) in the Fayum oasis, where, apparently, rituals were performed with the participation of crocodiles.
Sebek was also associated with pharaonic power, fertility and military prowess, he was addressed primarily for protection from the dangers associated with the Nile.
Some Egyptologists believe that gradually Sebek began to be identified with Ra (the supreme deity, concurrently the god of the Sun), Amon (the god of the air) and Khonsu (the god of the moon).
The “crocodile” tomb at Qubbat el-Hawa is unique in that it is the first time that only animal mummies are in the burial chamber. Usually mummified animals and birds were part of the grave inventory of some important priest.
In Egypt, about 20 burials with crocodile mummies are known. Basically, these were reptile cubs, which were found back in the late 19th – early 20th centuries and sorted into museums. This is the first time when there are so many crocodiles in one burial, and even in an unlooted one.
The smallest crocodile has a length of 1.8 meters, the largest – 3.5 meters. They belong to two different species, the Nile ( Crocodylus niloticus ) and West African ( Crocodylus suchus ) crocodiles.
The authors of the study explain the difference between them something like this: the Nile crocodile will simply eat you, and next to the West African one you can safely swim (but for some reason it doesn’t pull).
In the tomb itself, archaeologists have found traces of flax, palm leaves and rope: at least some of the crocodiles were once wrapped. Later, the linen bandages rotted away.
This happened because they were not impregnated with a large amount of resin, which is typical for mummies made in later periods.
If crocodiles were “swaddled” like late mummies, then all that would be left for scientists would be X-rays and other non-destructive research methods. In this case, zooarchaeologists could normally study what was left of the reptiles.
Three of the skeletons were almost complete, while the other two were missing some body parts. The authors of the work came to the conclusion that the crocodiles were originally buried elsewhere – perhaps in sand pits.
There they dried up, mummified in this way, and then they were taken out of the sand, wrapped in linen and leaves and transferred to the tomb in Qubbat el-Hawa. Body parts, according to scientists, were lost during packaging and transportation.
From wall paintings, we know that the Egyptians mainly caught crocodiles with nets. But there are no signs of slaughter on the reptiles from Qubbat el-Hawa. Perhaps they were drowned, suffocated, or overheated by exposing them to the sun for a long time.
One Nile crocodile was so well preserved that researchers found gastroliths inside it – stones in a separate muscular part of the stomach that help these animals maintain balance in the water. Gastroliths indicate that the crocodile was not opened and its insides were not taken out.
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