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Meet Sobek, a 2,500-year-old mummified Nile crocodile

a photo of a the snout and hear of a mummified crocodile

Copyright The Trustees of the British Museum

Take a look inside the British Museum’s Ancient Egyptian crocodile mummy

The ancient Egyptians worshiped crocodiles as the embodiment of Sobek, the crocodile god, and many of them were mummified after their deaths. Now new research at the British Museum is revealing more about a particularly impressive crocodile’s life and death.

The mummy dates from 650-550 BC and is nearly four metres long with more than 20 mummified crocodile hatchlings attached to its back.

Scanned at the Royal Veterinary College, London, using non-invasive, high-resolution computer tomography (CT) experts can now reveal more about the life, death and mummification of this sacred animal. The CT scan data has even been transformed into a 3D model to reveal very detailed images of the mummy’s internal features and evidence of the mummification process itself.

During the mummification the crocodile was dried in natron, a natural salt, covered with a mixture of beeswax and pitch and then wrapped in linen bandages.

a photograph of a mummified crocodile in full length

© Trustees of the British Museum

a clsoe up the jaws and teeth of a mummified crocodile

The business end of Sobek. © Trustees of the British Museum

a photo of a scan of a crocodile

Sobek scanned. © Trustees of the British Museum

Not all organs were removed by the embalmers, and the stomach contents – the remains of the crocodile’s last meal – are still present. The crocodile appears to have been fed select cuts of meat prior to death, including a cow’s shoulder bone and parts of a forelimb.

Exact replicas of these bones – 3D printed from the scan data – were displayed next to a four-metre CT scan visualisation of the crocodile during a 2015 exhibition at the museum. Also found in the stomach were numerous small irregular-shaped stones, which the crocodile swallowed for ballast and to assist digestion, as well as several unidentified small metal objects.

This species of crocodile is the largest in Africa and second largest in the world and the god Sobek symbolised the strength, power and potency of the pharaoh. Like some of the pharaohs, the dangerous and unpredictable Nile crocodile was both an object of reverence and terror for the ancient Egyptians; something to be kept at bay and appeased with gifts and offerings.

a scane of a crocodile showing some of the contents of its stomach

© Trustees of the British Museum

a side scan of a crocodile showing its skin tissue in more detail

© Trustees of the British Museum

a scan of a crocodile seen from above

© Trustees of the British Museum

The Egyptians represented the god Sobek through additional objects and carvings that depicted the god both as a crocodile and as a man with a crocodile head.

Animals were mummified by the ancient Egyptians in a fashion similar to that used to create human mummies with slight differences, and almost every type of animal was mummified. These mummies could be votive offerings for the gods, beloved pets or, like this mummy, sacred animals that were worshipped in life as manifestations of the gods themselves.

Sacred and votive mummies were buried in animal necropolises associated with a specific god’s cult. This practice peaked during the Greco-Roman period with large numbers of animals being mummified and buried.

Scanning Sobek: mummy of the crocodile god was on display in Room 3 at the British Museum from December 10 2015 – February 21 2016 as part of the Museum’s The Asahi Shimbun Displays – a series of regularly changing displays which look at objects in new or different ways.

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British Museum

London, Greater London

Founded in 1753, the British Museum’s remarkable collection spans over two million years of human history. Enjoy a unique comparison of the treasures of world cultures under one roof, centred around the magnificent Great Court. World-famous objects such as the Rosetta Stone, Parthenon sculptures, and Egyptian mummies are visited by…

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