Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lost Pharonic Crocodiles - In Eastern Mauritania

Mauritania - North-Western Africa

I've just been watching a documentary on Foxtel on the search for crocodiles descended from ancient Egyptian pharonic stock. The creatures were worshiped through the Crocodile God, Sobeck ...

... whose cult was centered on the Crocodilopolis (!) in the Fayum, an oasis out of Cairo which is connected to the Nile by a pharonic channel to ensure its water supply. I visited the Fayum a few years back - it still has horse-drawn carriages for taxis!

The status of crocodiles in ancient times was realized in their mummification and entombment.

Mummified Pharonic Crocodile

Mummified Pharonic Crocodile

Current thinking had been that the descendants of these ancient crocodiles 'died out' in upper Egypt in the C19.

But Tara Shine has located living relatives in eastern Mauritania, animals genetically related to their ancient counterparts though now developed into a new species.

Tara Shine in Mauritania

Tara Shine with a Mauritanian Croc

In the rainy season, these C21 croc relos live in lakes and wet lands that form on the southern edge of the Sahara Dessert.

However, in the eight month long dry season when there is no surface water, they retreat to 15 metre deep multi-branched underground burrows and 'hibernate'. Which surprised scientists as these animals are rarely seen to exist far from permanent water.

8,000-10,000 years ago, this area probably used to be lush savannah and grasslands. The Mauritanian crocodiles adapted over time to the ever drier conditions of their environment by becoming much smaller than relatives elsewhere (1.5 metres compared with 5 metres) - with this being the argument for their being a new species. Such dwarfism occurs when there is a small supply of food and animals grow slowly and reach small adult size.

Young crocodilians hatch and immediately head, without maternal aid, for caves below ground. Another different adaptation.

Tara discovered these Mauritanian reptiles through tribes people who sustained other smaller populations through hand-feeding and caring. They treat the creatures in ways not dissimilar to ancient Egyptian practice, perhaps an ancient memory trace or based in oral tradition.


  1. They mummified crocodiles??!!??
    Those egyptian people really had some screwy beliefs. But it does make for some fascinating reading though.

    Interesting how these crocodiles survive in the dessert. And have always been fascinated with crocodiles and their alligator cousins.

  2. yep mummified, bandaged and all - just like with people. cats were similarly treated and ibis and ... if it moved - you mummified!

  3. Oh, no, Greg, not half as "screwy" as a believing in a perpetually pissed-off sky-god who is gratified by torture and crucifixion, and demands that you worship his "son" (a somewhat confused Jewish carpenter who croaked a couple of thousand years ago but whose adherents seem to think is going to make an encore appearance ... well, "any day now") as some sort of savior who made a proxy sacrificial victim of himself, a god who, if you don't declare yourself re-born as a member of a world-wide blood cult (of which the central act of worship is ritualized cannibalism - "take, eat, this is my body, take, drink, this is my blood") then you will after your death be whisked away to a (vaguely Southerly) place of eternal suffering and torture, while believers are carried off to some (vaguely Northerly, or skyward) celestial paradise ... oh, you get my point. Nope, absolutely nothing "screwy" about revering crocodiles. Wonderful creatures. I'll take the company of a croc anytime, if the choice is between the reptile and that pissy, annoying Jeebus.

  4. First, let me say that I love being educated while cruising for naked men.

    iain - You hit that right on the head.

  5. hey greg. it's a good combo, isn't it! i like it too, reading your blog. thanks. nick

  6. I saw this documentary while I was away this summer, it was great. I never thought I would be so interested in the subject matter.

  7. hey average joe. glad you enjoyed it. it was interesting material + some googling and a bit of background knowledge - in a pot and stir = viola! will look at your blog and hope you come back here again. take care. nick