Unleash the Hounds: Archaeology edition

There are many articles and essays about new archaeology finds that are of interest to modern Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists out there, more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. Therefore, The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. Here are our favorite picks this month.

Relief carving of Sobek in Temple of Sobek and Haroeris in Kom Ombo – Image credit: Hajor (2001) – CC BY-SA 3.0

LUXOR, Egypt – The discovery of nine crocodile heads found in two tombs in the North Asasif necropolis, is the first time remains of the animals have been found in a burial site. The location of tombs is in part of the Theban Necropolis that is comprised of the sides and bottom of the processional route that leads to the royal temples in Deir el-Bahari, and the temples of Mentuhotep II, Hatshepsut, and Thutmose III.

According to the head of the research project from the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw, Dr. Patryk Chudzik,“This is a unique discovery, because until now no graves containing crocodiles were known in Egypt. Mummies of these dangerous reptiles have so far been discovered in temples.”

Crocodiles in ancient Egypt were connected to the deity Sobek, who was often depicted as either a large crocodile or as a male figure with the head of the crocodile. Sobek was associated with the river Nile because it was believed he controlled their waters, and by extension, the fertility of the soil. Sobek was also considered to a protector and a patron of the military due to his strength, power, and prowess. The deity was also referred to as Ra-Sobek which aligns him both with the sun god Ra and as a solar deity.

The crocodile skulls the excavation team found were not mummified and instead were wrapped in fabric. Chudzik believes that crocodile skulls were likely part of many tombs citing references found in Old and Middle Kingdom funerary spells from the Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts collection: “The soul of the deceased whose tomb contained crocodile heads was protected by Sobek and the fusion form Sobek-Ra. It could take the form of a god, and thus take over his powers, which also protected her from the dangers of the afterlife.”

The importance of animal remains and animal mummification was often overlooked and was discarded or cast aside by early archaeologists and Egyptologists who were more focused on funerary items they considered to be valuable–like statuary,  and anything with precious gems or incorporating gold.

Chudzik’s team found evidence of both–skulls that had been removed and left on rubbish piles from century-old excavations, and as part of the tombs of Cheti, an important official during the reign of pharaoh Mentuhotep II (reign: 2055-2002 BCE), and in another tomb that likely belongs to a vizier in the court of the same ruler.

“Our discoveries show that the remains of crocodiles were part of funerary equipment, and therefore had a magical meaning.”

AUVERGNE, France – The National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) in France released a statement last week that the remains of what is believed to be a mausoleum have been uncovered at the Gallo-Roman site of Chemin des Buis, which is south-east of the ancient town of Néris-les Bains/ Aquae Nerii. 

Among the items discovered are carved sandstone blocks, one that depicts what is believed to be the Greek sea deity, Triton, accompanied by a sea horse. In the statement released by INRAP:

“The 21 sandstone blocks were grouped against each other without organization and without the decorations being visible. After cleaning these blocks with a jet of water and a sponge, decorations in bas-relief gradually appeared which are unprecedented for Néris-les-Bains and even for Auvergne. In addition to the corner fragment discovered during the diagnosis, the most representative element of the set is a frieze fragment, 70 cm x 19 cm high, depicting a triton recognizable by its tentacles which end in palm leaves. The character has his arms spread, has long hair wears a beard, and his body is represented with a concern for realism despite the quality of the stone: thus the pectorals and groin folds are highlighted. To his right, a horse with only the two front legs visible is galloping towards the newt. It is probably a sea horse if we refer to other decorations of this type.”

Among the other items found that suggest the site was that of a mausoleum were a cornice piece with the appearance of scales, and a block that was found broken in two pieces which is consistent with the conical design used in constructing spires on mausoleums of the period.

According to INRAP, “In addition, the sea monster is a motif often represented on mausoleums in the 1st and 2nd centuries [CE], because it symbolizes the journey to the sojourns of the blessed after death. These elements can be compared to other structures identified as mausoleums in Auvergne, namely at Aulnat on the Grande-Borne site and at Mont-Dore where blocks represent a triton, and invite parallels with known sites of the Limousin.”

It is hoped by researchers that more examination and testing of the discovery will confirm these theories, and shed more light on the level of occupation and the possible importance of the area to the Roman Empire.

BURDUR, Türkiye – A massive, 26-foot-tall fountain that features two pools in the ancient city of Kibyra and dating to 23 BCE has been restored. The pools were reconstructed from over 150 fragments that had been recovered, as well as 24 stone blocks that a Turkish excavation team created as part of the restoration.

The fountain, which was believed to have been in use for anywhere from 600 to 700 years, will now soon see its waters flowing again thanks to a 17-person team that included archaeologists, restorers, and architects.

The ancient city of Kibyra, is located in the township of Gölhisar in the southwestern part of the province of Burdur and is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tentative List. According to UNESCO, “What makes Kibyra a featured ancient city among others is its cultural identity created by monumental scale of the monuments and the uniqueness of the artworks in the city.”

Kibyra is also known as the “City of Gladiators,” and is home to the Agora, a space designed around a colonnaded street flanked by shops with a monumental portal that depicts a lion and winged human motifs which opens to the street. Also contained within the ancient city is the Odeion, a large building that could accommodate 3,600 people, and housed a unique mosaic of Medusa. The mosaic was constructed from red, green, gray and blue-veined white marble plaques that are much larger than usual mosaic pieces. The Medusa mosaic is believed to be the first time the technique, known as Opus Sectile was used and offers tiny details of Medusa that define her physique, as well as ornaments that included a winged headpiece, curly hair, and snakes.

Sukru Ozudogru, an archaeologist at Mehmet Akif Ersoy University and head of the Kibryra’s dig team said, “We want to bring water from the ancient spring this May and restore the fountain to its original function.”

Ozudogru continued, “Just like in ancient times, water will flow into the pool from the mouths of the lion and panther statues in the lion’s hide where the mythological hero Hercules laid down, and the panther’s hide where the god of wine Dionysus lay down.”

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