Madrid (EFE).- Situated in front of the Egyptian city of Aswan, the Qubbet el-Hawa necropolis hides around a hundred tombs carved into the rock of the hill. One of them with ten crocodile mummies, an “archaeological surprise” because in this area of the west bank of the Nile its inhabitants did not worship Sobek, the “crocodile god.”
The remains of five skulls and five partial skeletons of crocodiles, measuring between 1.8 and 3.5 meters, were found in 2019 in a small tomb in the necropolis. The magazine Plos One publishes its description today, in an article signed by researchers from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and the University of Jaén.
Qubbet el-Hawa is located about a thousand kilometers south of Cairo and is a necropolis where the governors of the southern border of Egypt were buried, between the year 2200 and 1800 before the common era. Different teams of archaeologists have excavated the necropolis for 150 years.
Since 2008, the University of Jaén project, headed by Egyptology professor Alejandro Jiménez-Serrano, has discovered and excavated 25 tombs, from large funerary complexes to small tombs, like the one found this time with remains of only ten crocodiles.
“It is the first time in the entire necropolis that these mummified animals have been found,” Jiménez-Serrano assures EFE, who points out that the discovery “is quite a surprise”, because in Aswan, according to what was known until now, they did not give up worship of the god Sobek, god of water and fertility, often represented with a crocodile head.
The animals were habitual offerings of the old tombs
In ancient Egyptian tombs it is common to find animals, either as offerings to the deceased -for example, birds or some part of a bovid- or as offerings to the divinities. In the first millennium before the common era, the practice began of giving mummified animals to certain gods in order to get closer to them and gain their favor.
Here’s what the researchers think is behind this new finding. The people who made this offering sought the favor of the divinity and the crocodiles are “the intermediaries” between the human being and the god, explains the project director.
The remains were found in 2019 and examined in a field laboratory in 2022. The style of conservation of the mummies is different from that found in other sites, especially because they lack evidence of resin or evisceration -removal of abdominal viscera- from the corpse as part of the mummification process.
The style of preservation suggests an antiquity before Ptolemaic times, consistent with the final phase of funerary use of Qubbet el-Hawa during the fifth century BC.
None of the specimens was wrapped in bandages, material that was eaten by termites, although there were some remains that indicate that they were once wrapped, or covered by vegetable mats.
The animals were found in the upper part of a tomb, on a layer of sand that covered four burials – two men and two women – deposited 1,700 years before.
Based on the morphology of the mummies, they identified two species of crocodiles
The people of Aswan chose Qubbet el-Hawa to bury the crocodiles because the necropolis was already considered sacred and was closer to the divine realm.
Based on their morphology, the researchers identified two species; West African crocodiles and Nile crocodiles.
One of the most important things about the discovery, sums up Jiménez-Serrano, is that they possibly “starved them to death.”
One of the crocodiles, he details, has a notch on one of its hind legs, indicating that it was tied up.
The researchers believe that once dead they were buried in sand to dry them out and then they were packed in cloth, bandages or mat and transferred to the tomb of Qubbet el-Hawa. It is a simpler and more accessible mummification, but the important thing is that they serve as transmitters of human desires in the face of divinity, emphasizes the researcher from the University of Jaén.
“More than 20 burial sites with crocodile mummies are known in Egypt, but finding 10 well-preserved mummies together in an intact tomb is extraordinary,” summarizes Belgian researcher Bea De Cupere in a university note.