The Asahi Shimbun Displays
Scanning Sobek: mummy of the crocodile god

10 December 2015 – 21 February 2016
Room 3
Supported by the Asahi Shimbun

 

The ancient Egyptians worshipped this crocodile as the embodiment of Sobek, the crocodile god, and many were mummified after its death.

This Asahi Shimbun display focuses on one example from the British Museum and presents new findings about the crocodile’s life and death. During the mummification process, it was dried in natron, a natural salt, covered with a mixture of beeswax and pitch, and wrapped in linen bandages. The mummy dates from 650 – 550 BC and is nearly 4 metres long with over 20 mummified crocodile hatchlings attached to its back.

This crocodile mummy and hatchlings were scanned at the Royal Veterinary College, London, using non-invasive, high-resolution computer tomography (CT) in order to reveal more about the life, death and mummification of this sacred animal. Using highly accurate visualisation software, the CT scan data was transformed into a 3D model to reveal very detailed images of the mummy’s internal features and evidence of the mummification process itself. 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 appear 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 – are displayed next to 4 metre CT scan visualisation of the crocodile. The bones were found inside the stomach along with numerous small irregular-shaped stones, which the crocodile swallowed for ballast and to assist digestion, as well as several unidentified small metal objects.

The god Sobek symbolised the strength, power and potency of the pharaoh. The hatchlings riding on the mummy’s back imitate the behaviour of living crocodiles as seen by the ancient Egyptians, and emphasise Sobek’s relationship to fertility, the annual Nile flood, and to creation. 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. This species of crocodile is the largest in Africa and second largest in the world. The exhibition explores how the Egyptians represented the god Sobek through additional objects that depict the god both as a crocodile, and as a man with a crocodile head.

Such mummies provide unique insight into the religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians. Animals were mummified 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, 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.

This mummy was excavated in 1893 at Kom Ombo, a temple and cemetery site in Upper Egypt. The Egyptian government presented it to the British Museum in 1895. The mummy was displayed shortly following its arrival at the British Museum but was removed from the galleries in the 1930s. This will be the first time it has been exhibited for over 75 years.

Notes to Editors

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Opening hours 10.00–17.30 Saturday to Thursday and 10.00–20.30 Fridays.

The Asahi Shimbun Displays are a series of regularly changing displays which look at objects in new or different ways. Sometimes the display highlights a well-known item, sometimes it surprises the audience with extraordinary items from times and cultures that may not be very familiar. This is also an opportunity for the Museum to learn how it can improve its larger exhibitions and permanent gallery displays. These displays have been made possible by the generous sponsorship of The Asahi Shimbun Company, who are long-standing supporters of the British Museum. With a circulation of about 7 million for the morning edition alone, The Asahi Shimbun is the most prestigious newspaper in Japan. The company also publishes magazines and books, and provides a substantial information service on the Internet. The Asahi Shimbun Company has a century long tradition of staging exhibitions in Japan of art, culture and history from around the world.

Public programme: lectures and events

Animal mummies as votives, souvenirs and specimens
Friday 15 January, 13.30, BP Lecture Theatre
Campbell Price, Manchester Museum
Free, booking essential

Sobek: Egypt’s crocodile god
Tuesday 15 December, 13.15, Room 3
Julie Anderson, British Museum
Free, just drop in

More about Egypt at the Museum

Egypt: faith after the pharaohs
29 October 2015 – 7 February 2016, Room 35

This exhibition will trace Egypt’s journey from the ancient world of the pharaohs to a place defined by the worship of one God – whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim. The exhibition features a huge range of different objects, from sculpture depicting a mix of Greek, Roman and Egyptian traditional gods to Christian and Islamic manuscripts. Together, they tell a rich and complex story of influences and coexistence over the centuries.

The BP exhibition
Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds

19 May - 27 November 2016
The Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery

This exhibition will show how research work at these underwater sites is transforming our understanding of the relationship between ancient Egypt and the Greek world, and the unique importance of these cities. Heracleion was one of Egypt’s most important hubs for Mediterranean trade and, with Canopus, a major religious centre, particularly for the worship of the Egyptian god of the afterlife Osiris. The cities were submerged by the sea over a thousand years ago ensuring the preservation of a vast number of artefacts of unique importance that will take a starring role in this unique show.

Supported by BP
Organised with Hilti Foundation and the Institut Européen d’Archéologie Sous-Marine.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities of the Arab Republic of Egypt.

For further information please contact the Press Office on 020 7323 8322 or communications@britishmuseum.org

For public information please print britishmuseum.org or 020 7323 8299

High resolution images and caption sheet available here