The discovery of 10 mummified crocodiles at a historic site in Egypt has given fresh insight into the ancient embalming technique.
Archaeologists say the mummies found in an undisturbed tomb at Qubbat al-Haw, on the west bank of the Nile, date to the 5th Century BC and were mummified in a unique manner.
Study leader Dr Bea De Cupere said that mummified animals are common finds at Egyptian archaeological sites but, despite several hundred mummified crocodiles being available in museum collections worldwide, they are not often examined thoroughly.
Dr Cupere, of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, and her team conducted a detailed analysis of the preservation of the mummified crocodiles found in rock tombs.
She said: ‘Ten crocodile mummies, including five more or less complete bodies and five heads, were found in an undisturbed tomb.
‘The mummies were in varying states of preservation and completeness. The mummies included five isolated skulls and five partial skeletons.’
The research team were able to examine without unwrapping or using CT-scanning and radiography.
Dr Cupere said: ‘Based on the morphology of the crocodiles, two species were identified: West African and Nile crocodiles, with specimens ranging from 1.5 to 3.5 metres in length.
‘The preservation style of the mummies is different from that found at other sites, most notably lacking evidence of resin use or carcass evisceration as part of the mummification process.
‘The style of preservation suggests a pre-Ptolemaic age, which is consistent with the final phase of funerary use of Qubbat al-Haw* during the 5th Century BC.’
She added: ‘Comparing mummies between archaeological sites is useful for identifying trends in animal use and mummification practices over time.
‘The limitations of this study included the lack of available ancient DNA and radiocarbon, which would be useful for refining the identification and dating of the remains.’
She concluded: ‘Future studies incorporating these techniques will further inform scientific understanding of ancient Egyptian cultural practices.’
The findings were published in the journal PLoS ONE.
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