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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Egyptian middens and crocodiles

"It's hard to imagine, but many ancient Egyptians paid to become slaves"
-- Bob Brockie, science columnist for the Dominion Post

"I am your servant from this day forward and I shall pay 2 1/2 copper coins every month as my slave fee, before Saknebtunis the great god."
-- papyrus contract found in an ancient rubbish tip in the Egyptian village of Tebtunis

And who, pray, was Saknebtunis the great god?

He, Bob Brockie informs us, was a crocodile god who was worshipped in every village near Tebtunis that owned a suitable temple with an attached lake and some sunbathing mud.

Shudder. Worshipping a crocodile is not my idea of fun, but 2200 years ago the villagers took their religion so seriously that archaeologists have unearthed dozens of crocodile mummies. Interestingly, these mummies were wrapped on layers of papyri which turned out, on investigation, to be legal documents such as tax receipts, marriage contracts ... and arrangements where slaves paid their masters to become their servants.
Presumably, the alternative -- of digging canals, or rowing in galleys -- was worse.  But how could slaves afford the monthly payment? Apparently they had jobs on the side, such as interpreting dreams, or copying legal documents.
The croc pictured above is not an Egyptian reptile, but an Aussie example. There is rather a fetching tourist attraction at Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays called "Crocodile Safari," where not only do you drift down a river watching crocs doing their thing (which seemed to alternate between mud-bathing and sliding rather dramatically into the river), but you are taken through the marshes to look at birds and wallabies, and are fed lots of great Aussie tucker.
Highly recommended.  Here's another picture ...

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