Its last meal was still in its stomach.
The demand for mummified crocodiles was intense in ancient Egypt.
Thousands were bred and reared in captivity to be dispatched and expertly mummified for offerings to the potent gods.
There’s also evidence that crocodiles were hunted, no doubt a dangerous pursuit, to help feed the craze.
Researchers in France using high-tech scans say they were surprised when they found a massive skull injury during a “virtual” necropsy on a crocodile’s mummified remains. It is the first concrete evidence of the hunting of animals for mummies, they say.
“It is an amazing story,” Stephanie M. Porcier, lead author of a new report in the Journal of Archaeological Science, said in email. “We did not expect to find the mummy’s skull fractured when we began the analyses.”
The Egyptians were famously obsessed with mummification.
In addition to people, millions of dogs, cats, foxes, gazelles, baboons, monkeys, horses, lions, goats, even shrews were expertly preserved, according to the journal and other reports.
A man named Hapymin was buried with his mummified pet dog curled up at his feet, according to Egyptologist Salima Ikram of the American University in Cairo.
The Musée des Confluences, a science museum in Lyon, France, has 2,500 animal mummies. And an estimated 10,000 bird mummies were buried annually in one sacred animal necropolis, according to Ikram.
The mummy trade was a huge business, especially in the centuries before and after Egypt was taken over by the Romans, said Edward Bleiberg, curator of Egyptian, classical and ancient Near Eastern art at the Brooklyn Museum.
Animal mummies were produced in mass quantities mostly as “votives” to make requests of the gods.
Many gods were associated with individual animals and could be appealed to with the corresponding mummy.
“There are falcon mummies associated with the god Horus, cat mummies for Bastet, dog mummies for Anubis, ibis mummies for Thoth,” Bleiberg said.
“The requests that we have in writing are very standard,” he added. “For health, for yourself, or for a relative, requests for intervention in business disputes.”
There were facilities that raised the animals, special embalming houses, and priests who conducted the offerings. All for a fee. The mummies were then buried in underground catacombs, with sections for different animals.
“They’re just miles-long tunnels, with openings off to either side, where [they] … were packed in tightly,” Bleiberg said.
Crocodiles were among the venerated. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus says that some were so revered that they were tamed and adorned with jewelry.
And they made for great mummies. Thousands, some specially decorated, were found in a crocodile necropolis in the Egyptian town of Tebtunis in 1899 and 1900, according to scholar Michal Molcho.
The crocodile god was Sobek. He was often rendered with the head of a crocodile and the body of a man, and was associated with fertility, the Nile River and its ferocious reptiles.
There is evidence of crocodile hatcheries and nurseries. A 12-foot-long mummified Egyptian crocodile in the British Museum was recently found to have the foreleg of a cow in its stomach, hinting that it was raised on a choice diet.
Gold and ivory teeth and eyes were reportedly added after mummification.
Two kinds of crocodiles have been documented in Egypt, according to the report: the infamous Nile crocodile and the smaller West African crocodile.
The former can grow to over 20 feet long, weigh more than 1,000 pounds and take down a buffalo. The latter is said to be less aggressive but can still grow to be 10 feet long.
Hunting either was probably done with care.
“Very few Egyptologists have suggested hunting, as a mode for procuring animals,” Porcier and five colleagues wrote in the Journal. “There was insufficient evidence.”
Porcier’s team examined one of the crocodile mummies from the museum in Lyon with a process called synchrotron multiscale microtomography.
The mummy was that of young male about 3½ feet long. The experts did not determine which kind of crocodile it was.
The mummy had been acquired in the early 20th century from the ancient city of Kom Ombo off the Nile River, the site of a magnificent temple partly dedicated to Sobek and more recently the location of a crocodile mummy museum.
The scanning process allowed the scientists to virtually remove the linen wrapping, as well as the animal’s skin, so the crocodile’s skeleton and internal organs could be viewed, the team wrote.
The body, roughly 2,000 years old, was well-preserved, with no trace of decomposition, the team found.
As usual with animals, it had not been eviscerated during mummification. Its stomach contained typical food for a wild crocodile: the remains of a rodent, insects, fish and eggs.
“The mummification process was clearly started very rapidly after the death,” Porcier said in an email.
A significant discovery was the head injury, in which the top of the animal’s skull was smashed in.
“The crocodile’s cranium is fractured in different areas … indicating that the animal received a violent blow,” the scientists wrote. “The probable cause of death is … a direct trauma to the brain.”
“The size of the fracture as well as its direction and shape suggest it was made by a single blow presumably with a … wooden club aimed at … the right side of the crocodile, probably when it was resting on the ground,” they added.
The resulting indentation in the skull was packed and filled during mummification.
It was then ready to carry its prayer to Sobek.
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