While preparing for a new exhibit that will allow visitors to virtually dissect a crocodile mummy, museum curators in the Netherlands were met with a surprise: What they thought were two crocodiles wrapped up together turned out to be nearly 50.
An earlier scan, carried out in the 1990s, had already shown evidence that the nearly 10-foot-long specimen was in fact two smaller adolescent crocodiles, as opposed to one longer one. But the older scan did not clearly show any additional animals.
A shock to the curators, the advanced 3-D scans used for the new exhibit revealed 47 additional baby crocodiles, all individually wrapped and mummified along with the two original animals. (Also see “Peek Inside Cat Mummies With New X-Ray Images.”)
CT scans offer a "really detailed" and noninvasive look at "what's going on inside" the mummies, says museum conservator Allison Lewis.
The 2,500-year-old specimen was likely a sacrifice to the crocodile god Sobek, according to Laura Weiss, a curator at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, which has housed the crocodile mummy since 1828.
Ancient Egyptians believed in life after death, which could explain the sacrifice and mummification of both baby and adolescent crocodiles, Weiss added.
There is precedent for mummifying multiple crocodiles as an offering to the gods. One crocodile, probably worshipped in life as a living incarnation of Sobek (as opposed to being raised as a sacrifice), was mummified after death with 20 hatchlings and exhibited in 2015 at the British Museum in London, and two more were studied at the Hearst Museum of Anthropology in California (see images below).
In the upcoming exhibit in Leiden, museumgoers will have the opportunity to virtually remove layer upon layer of mummification materials, exposing the 49 crocodiles beneath. The display will also let people digitally unwrap an Egyptian priest and examine that mummy’s decorations in detail.