The bodies of ancient mummified crocodiles with no heads have been discovered in an undisturbed Egyptian tomb.
Researchers believe the bodies, discovered at Qubbat al-Hawā on the River Nile's western bank, were preserved in a "unique" way to appease the gods, with some of their heads having been removed after the crocs were killed and dried out.
While it has been long known that the ancient Egyptians mummified animals as a matter of course, the findings, which have been published in the journal PLOS ONE, have given scientists a fresh insight into their way of life – and death.
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"The animal mummies were used as votive offerings to the worshipped gods, or were considered to be physical manifestations of the gods," Bea De Cupere, author of the study at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, told Newsweek.
"Killing an animal was not a problem if its mummification [allowed the connection of] the human world with the divine sphere."
Scientists have learned that crocodiles in particular were sacrificed as a way of appeasing and connecting with ancient Egyptian deity Sobek, who was associated with fertility.
Sobek was often depicted as either a crocodile or as a human with a crocodile's head.
Finding preserved crocodiles is rare, however.
"Crocodiles from more recent excavations of funerary contexts are quite rare and consist mainly of scattered remains from disturbed contexts," De Cupere said.
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"The undisturbed tomb of Qubbat al-Hawā is therefore unique, presenting a collection of crocodile mummies which can easily be studied."
The scientist added: "It is assumed that the animals were first laid on the surface or buried in a sandy environment that allowed the bodies to dry out naturally.
"The bodies were then wrapped in linen and mats of palm leaves and brought to the tomb where they were deposited.
"During the process of mummification, damage occurred to some of the crocodiles, while others were well preserved. In the case of the five isolated skulls, the heads were removed when the crocodiles were already [dried out]."
Researchers aren't sure how the crocodiles were killed, as there are no visible signs that give away the cause of death.
However, several methods could have been used to kill the beasts that would not have left clear marks, including drowning, suffocation and exposing the animals to the sun for a prolonged period.
Teams from the University of Jaén in Spain first started examining the rock tombs at in 2008.
The burial site, the name of which translates as "Dome of the Wind", is thought to have been used from around 2,500 years ago up until the Roman and Byzantine period (30 B.C. – A.D. 642).
"It is one of the most densely occupied cemeteries of ancient Egypt," De Cupere said. "Dignitaries of the region were buried here in the tombs cut out of the rocks."
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