The Nile crocodile, ferocious and deadly, played a major role in both the everyday and the spiritual life of ancient Egyptians. The crocodile, both feared and revered, was at the heart of worship in a number of places along the Nile and in the Fayoum oasis. One of these was at Madinet Madi, southwest of Cairo, and Egyptian authorities put another archaeological site on the country’s tourist map in May 2011 by opening a visitor center near the excavated ruins.
Madinet Madi is one of the most important archaeological sites in the Fayoum region. It was founded during the reigns of Amenemhat III (c 1981-1952 BC) and Amenemhat IV (c 1814-1805 BC) of the 12th Dynasty (c 1981-1802 BC). It contains the ruins of the only Middle Kingdom (c 2030-1802 BC) temple in Egypt. This temple was dedicated to the cobra-headed goddess, Renenutet, and the crocodile-headed god, Sobek of Scedet, patron god of the region and its capital, Scedet. During the Ptolemaic period (332-30 BC), the temple was enlarged and the city enhanced.
Sobek’s cult originally flourished around the Fayoum where some temples still remain. The area was so closely associated with Sobek that Arsinoe was known to the Greeks as Crocodilopolis or ‘crocodile Town’ and signs still calling it that direct you to the site to this very day. Another major cult centre was at Kom Ombo, close to the sandbanks of the Nile where crocodiles would often bask. Some temples of Sobek kept pools where sacred crocodiles were housed: these crocodiles were fed the best cuts of meat and became quite tame. When they died, they were mummified and buried in special animal cemeteries. In other areas of Egypt, however, crocodiles were dealt with by simply hunting and killing them.
Now almost forgotten by tourists, the Madinet Madi site was swarming with pilgrims in ancient times. Indeed, 10 Coptic churches dating from the 5th to 7th centuries and the remains of a Ptolemaic temple dedicated to the crocodile god were unearthed in the past decades by renowned Egyptologist Edda Bresciani of Pisa University, who has been excavating the area since 1978.
Discovered more than 10 years ago, the temple featured a unique barrel-vaulted structure which was used for the incubation of crocodile eggs. According to Bresciani, the structure was basically a nursery for sacred crocodiles. Her team found dozens of eggs in different stages of maturation in a hole covered with a layer of sand. In the adjacent room, the archaeologist found a perfectly preserved pool.
“As they came out from the eggs, the crocodiles were kept in the pool,” Bresciani wrote in the excavation report. According to Bresciani, the crocodiles here were bred only to be killed. As they were embalmed, they were sold to pilgrims to the Sobek temple. Further evidence for the sacred crocodile business came from a nearby building, which contained another pool and other 60 crocodile eggs.
Almost forgotten in modern times, with its monuments appearing and disappearing with the windblown desert sand, Medinet Madi is now at the center of a development project which aims to preserve the site and make it a more tourist-friendly visitor destination.
The plan, funded by a €3.5 million ($5 million) grant from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Italy, has “successfully cleared the archaeological site of intrusive sand and restored its monuments,” Zahi Hawass, Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs at the time, said in a statement.
“Comprehensive archaeological survey and mapping of the site have also been undertaken, as has the building of a visitor center and eco-lodge as well,” Hawass said.
There’s an interesting account of earlier excavations here http://www.egittologia.unipi.it/pisaegypt/MMscavi03-04.htm
More information on the site’s history here:
This video will give you some idea of the scope of the site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWOGMeTop8g (Arabic commentary)
Original article from Discovery News http://news.discovery.com/archaeology/ancient-egypt-crocodile-god-110509.html?fb_ref=fb2&fb_source=home_multiline