A research team from the France's Paul-Valéry University has uncovered the secrets behind the death of a crocodile that lived in the Romanian era in Egypt 2300 years ago. They carried out a "virtual" autopsy using a technique known as "Synchrotron Radiation Microtomography."
The Synchrotron Radiation Microtomography is a three dimensional non-destructive technique usually used by scientists to perform a virtual autopsy of a mummy without damaging the bones, flesh, and linen bandages. In this study, the technique provided an accurate analysis of the bones and tissues of a crocodile mommy at the Lyon-based Musée des Confluences, and allowed the experts to determine the reason behind its death and the last meal it ate.
According to a report by the French "Echosciences" website, the research suggested that the crocodile had a blow on the head that smashed the upper part of its skull and killed it. These findings are the first evidence of the use of this method during the Romanian era to kill crocodiles in order to mummify them. The study is set to be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science in October.
Ancient Egyptians prized crocodiles symbolizing the god Sobek, which was worshiped in the Kom Ombo region. The examined crocodile was from the same region. Whether they died naturally or killed, crocodiles were hallowed and had full embalming rituals before being buried in a special cemetery, along with special sacrifices like potteries filled with food.
Led researcher Stéphanie M. Porcier wrote in the report: "We knew that Ancient Egyptians killed and mummified crocodiles for ideological purposes, but the synchrotron imaging helped us provide the first practical evidence of it. It also helped us determine the reason behind the animal's death (skull fracture) and the final meal it ate before death."
The fracture's size, direction and shape indicate it is the result of one violent blow caused by a two-centimeter-thick wooden bat, said Porcier.
The led researchers explained that the first fourth-generation synchrotron used in the study also revealed that the content of the crocodile's stomach was well preserved, and that the animal's last meal comprised two main elements: shells of snake or lizard eggs, and several types of bugs.
Speaking about the scientific value of determining the crocodile's last meal, Porcier told Asharq Al-Awsat by email: "Determining the last meal has provided us with a better understanding of the natural environment in which the crocodile lived and how it fed itself without the assistance of humans. Former studies showed that some crocodiles were fed by humans."
The demand on crocodiles in Ancient Egypt was huge. At the time, these animals were grown and nurtured, and later, transformed into mummies. According to researchers, however, the studied crocodile was killed right after being caught.