Patri Mora Riudavets, member of the Qubbat al-Hawā team, CC-BY 4.0
- A ancient Egyptian tomb was uncovered containing ten mummified crocodiles.
- The tomb’s contents was likely sacrificed for the crocodile-headed god Sobek.
- Crocodile mummies are common, but finding ten at once is “extraordinary,” one researcher said.
Archaeologists found a tomb containing ten crocodiles mummified in ancient Egypt, a study published Wednesday announced.
The tomb, found in 2019 at the site of Qubbet el-Hawa near the town of Aswan in southern Egypt, contained five crocodile skeletons and five heads.
The leading theory is that the crocodiles were sacrificed as an offering to Sobek, the crocodile-headed god of the Nile and fertility.
The discovery was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE.
An archeologist dusts off the crocodile remains.
No slaughter marks have been found on crocodiles, but ropes found on the remains suggest these fairly large crocodiles — the biggest being 12ft long — were bound up until their death.
“We have found evidence that the crocodiles were tied up, probably until their death by dehydration,” Alejandro Jiménez-Serrano, an egyptologist from the University of Jaén in Spain and an author of the study, told Insider.
An aerial view of the most complete set of crocodile remains, seen after excavation.
De Cupere et al., 2023, PLOS ONE, CC-BY 4.0
Traces of linen bandages also indicate that these crocodiles were mummified before they were buried. This suggests the animals were sacrificed to a god.
But this was a fairly primitive form of mummification. The animals were not preserved with resin and internal organs were not removed. They were simply buried whole and left to naturally mummify in the hot sand.
The scientists even found a gastrolith, a stone that crocodiles carry in their intestines to balance themselves in water, still in place in the remains, which suggests the guts were never taken away.
This suggests that these crocodiles were quite old, from the 5th century BC, per the study.
Sobek, the crocodile-headed god of fertility
Sobek, the crocodile-headed god of fertility, is shown in hieroglyphs in Kom Ombo, southern Egypt.
“For us, it was a great surprise,” Jiménez-Serrano said.
“In theory, it was an area where there was not much devotion to the crocodile god Sobek.”
Devotion to animal gods and goddesses started growing during the first millennium BC in Egypt, per Jiménez-Serrano.
Mummified cats, cobras, kestrels, and other animals, wrapped in neat packages, were commonly used to send requests to the gods.
“If you want to ask something to the god, the line between you and them was the animal mummy,” said Jiménez-Serrano.
Mummies of crocodiles have been found before. But they had never been found with this kind of mummification and never in Qubbet el-Hawa.
“More than 20 burial sites with crocodile mummies are known in Egypt, but to find 10 well-preserved crocodile mummies together in one intact tomb is extraordinary,” Bea De Cupere, an archaeozoologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and an author on the study, said in a press release.
The closest cultic center for the worship of Sobek was Kom Ombo, a town about 31 miles away from Qubbet el-Hawa.
But Jiménez-Serrano doesn’t think this means there was a temple to Sobek established in the area. For him, it’s more likely that this was a one-off event where all ten crocodiles were killed in one go.
“I think that it was a single offering ceremony in which you deposit the crocodiles, and you performed the rituals to request to the God Sobek about your petition,” he said.