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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

What Egyptian Crocodile Mummies Tell us About Life, Death, and Taxes Thousands of Years Ago

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Our story begins in 1899, when two archaeologists — Arthur Hunt and Bernard Grenfell — were on an expedition in Northern Egypt in an ancient town once known as Tebtunis on a search for mummies and other ancient artifacts.
This was during a growing Western fascination with ancient Egypt that was later dubbed Egyptomania. Researchers hunted all things Egyptian — especially human mummies, partly because they represented the Western obsession with bringing the dead back to life.
While the team were excavating the town’s cemeteries, they found something unexpected: crocodile mummies. Instead of being thrilled at the discovery, the archaeologists saw the reptilian mummies as getting in the way of what they really wanted. But a new generation of Egyptologists have a different view. They see these crocodiles as a means of understand Egyptians’ views of fear, strength, pleasing their gods, and even death. But those aren’t the only secrets they contain. To hold the mummies’ shape, priests would stuff the mummies with waste papyri that had writing on it that people didn’t have a use for anymore.
This waste papyri, plus other texts that were found in Tebtunis, reveal what daily life was like for the ancient Egyptians. It’s knowledge that’s invaluable to social historians today.
Joining the show to discuss these curiosities are Rita Lucarelli, professor of Egyptology and the faculty curator of Egyptology at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, and Andrew Hogan, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for the Tebtunis Papyri at the Bancroft Library. We discuss all the ways that the most unlikely of items can connect us to the ancient past and understand our predecessors.
June 10, 2021
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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to
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