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Archeologists Discover Ancient Burial Site of Infants, Scorpions and Crocodiles

Archeologists Discover Ancient Burial Site of Infants, Scorpions and Crocodiles

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A group of archaeologists excavating an ancient site in Egypt have uncovered tombs and crypts – dating to the reigns of Pharaohs Thutmose III and Amenhotep II – containing intact remains of infants, goats, cats and scorpions, as well as a mysterious crocodile skeleton.

The Secrets of the Tomb Were “Hiding” for Nearly 3,400 Years

A team of archaeologists from Lund University, Sweden – one of northern Europe's oldest, largest and most prestigious universities – made the discovery in Gebel el Silsila, a site 65km (40 miles) north of Aswan, Egypt. The excavation site was in a quarry where the same group of researchers also uncovered ancient sandstone sculptures in 2015. The graves are carved into rock faces, and each contain one or two burial chambers. It is believed the people buried at the site were members of the upper middle-class, rather than pharaohs, "So far we have excavated 26 rock-cut tombs dating back to 3,400 years ago. From these burials we have recovered more than 80 individuals of varying ages and sex," Lund University archaeologist Maria Nilsson, director of the Gebel el Silsila Survey Project, told Seeker. The findings include three crypts also cut into the rock, two niches possibly used for offerings and one tomb containing the intact remains of three infants, sheep, goats and a cat. Interestingly, all thee infants appear to be buried in different styles: One was resting in a crypt cut into the rock; the second in a shallow grave covered with stone, while the third infant was wrapped in textile and placed within a wooden coffin with a necklace of beads and an amulet of the god Bes, protector of children.

Some of the skeletal remains found in the recent excavation.

Some of the skeletal remains found in the recent excavation. Credit: Ministry of Antiquities

Mysterious Crocodile Skeleton Found in the Middle of a Courtyard

Furthermore, the team found a crypt with a dozen sheep and goats, and a couple of Nile perch. Nilsson suggests that the fish remains could have been possibly brought in with a Nile inundation, but she can’t be sure about all the sheep and goat remains found within the crypt, "One possibility is that sheep and goats were used in sacrificial offerings in the necropolis," she speculates. Even more mystery surrounds the skeleton of an almost complete adult crocodile which was discovered resting on the floor in the courtyard immediately outside the crypt. "Its tail was orientated towards the south while its head, which was missing, would have been in the north," associate dig director John Ward said. Additionally, Nilsson and Ward found another crocodile a little further north laying in a similar position, even though in this case the tail was pointing north and the head, again missing, lay toward the south. "We cannot verify that these crocs were deliberately placed within the necropolis, or whether they died of natural causes. But to find two in similar circumstances is worthy of further research and analysis," Ward told Seeker.

Photo showing the entrance to one of the tombs.

Photo showing the entrance to one of the tombs. Credit: Ministry of Antiquities

Findings Offer a lot of New Information

It is now hoped the newly-discovered burial sites will assist historians to understand better ancient Egyptian healthcare and give a boost to Egypt's struggling tourism industry, which has been beset by political upheaval and militant attacks since the unseating of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Lund University wrote in a press release, “The new finds add exciting new components to the necropolis, changing yet again the perceived function and apparent appearance to the site of Gebel el Silsila, and with further fieldwork the team look forward to increasing their understanding of the overall function and role of the area during the New Kingdom.” Further studies are expected to reveal further information about the social rankings of those buried there, and exactly what purpose the uncovered cemeteries served.

Top image: Tomb 14 interior, including entrance to second chamber (Gebel el Silsila Project photo)

By Theodoros-Karasavvas

Theodoros Karasavvas's picture


Theodoros Karasavvas, J.D.-M.A. has a cum laude degree in Law from the University of Athens, a Masters Degree in Legal History from the University of Pisa, and a First Certificate in English from Cambridge University. When called upon to do... Read More

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