Conservators and biologists who had examined wrapped crocodile mummy PAHMA 6-20100 were dubious as to whether the flat, flexible mummy really contained a single adult crocodile.
Similar looking crocodile mummies in other collections have been found to contain multiple smaller juvenile crocodiles, partial skeletons plus wood and/or plant stalks, or no animal remains at all. Learning what the mummy bundle contains will help Egyptologists to determine what type of mummy this is and to refine our knowledge about animal mummification procedures. Knowing the contents of the wrappings will help conservators to understand the mummy’s fabrication techniques and the way it has deteriorated, and therefore how best to care for it.
CT scans performed at Stanford University allowed us to find out what was concealed beneath the painted mask and linen wrappings of 6-20100. The CT scans revealed that the mummy contains a disorganized mass of crocodile bones from at least two animals. The majority of bones and bone fragments are crocodile vertebrae and osteoderms (bony plates found in dorsal scales).
Also present are two skulls, what appear to be scapula, some limb bones, and neural spines snapped off of vertebrae. The wrappings do not appear to contain a full complement of bones making up a complete skeleton. The jumbled collection of bones and bone fragments is surrounded by papyrus stems and reinforced with what appear to be long plant stalks that run the length of the mummy.
There is an intact adult crocodile skull inside of the mask, and a second smaller broken skull just behind the head.
The CT scans provided surprising information about the mask. Not only does it contain a real crocodile skull, the mask is modeled directly on the skull below (with the exception of the stylized knob-like features on top of the mask). Even the round depression at the end of the snout corresponds to the underlying bone structure.
There is also an intact section of osteoderms in the midsection of the mummy on what would have been the dorsum, oriented correctly with respect to the “head” end.
In addition to revealing the nature of skeletal material in the mummy’s interior, the CT scans provided insight into the way plant elements were used to construct the mummy. The scans confirmed that long papyrus stems, oriented longitudinally along the “crocodile’s” head-to-tail axis, surround the mass of bony material. The majority of the papyrus was placed above the bones in the dorsal half of the mummy (see image of transverse section above). Strips of other plant material are wrapped around the bone/papyrus, binding the bundle crosswise. This other material includes twisted cordage of unidentified plant fibers and two types of flat fibers that are probably papyrus or palm leaf petiole (leaf stem) and another type of reed (perhaps Arundo donax or Phragmites australis).
The inclusion of the remains of multiple crocodiles and long plant stalks is consistent with other Greco-Roman crocodile mummies that have been CT scanned or X-rayed. The lack of a single carefully mummified specimen in the wrappings suggests that this mummy was perhaps a votive offering, rather than a sacred crocodile worshipped during its lifetime as an embodiment of the god Sobek. The loose disorganized collection of bones and broken binding plant fibers account for the flexibility noted by conservators working on the mummy.
Many thanks to Dr. Rebecca Fahrig (Stanford University), eHuman Inc., and Fovia, Inc. for their assistance with scanning the mummy and rendering images!