While studying animal remains at sites in the Israeli Negev region that date back to the so-called Byzantine era from the 7th to 8th centuries CE, archaeologists have discovered crocodile bones along with skeletons of more typical domesticated cattle, sheep, and goats.
The main goal of the researchers from the University of Haifa was to learn more about the social and economic upheavals in the region that witnessed turbulent periods spanning the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Christianity and Islam. It is hoped that by examining the customs of settlers and nomads, researchers will gain a clue to better understanding their communities.
According to the article, published in Scientific Reports, the team concluded that the discovered crocodile and sea turtle bones point to these animals being imported to the region. As the researchers noted in their report, the creatures, widely-worshipped in Egypt until Roman times, were supplied to Rome and kept there in special pools.
According to the researchers, some legionnaires adopted the crocodile cults, as earlier findings, including a piece of late Roman parade armour made from reptile skin, may suggest. Some Egyptian texts also refer to roasted crocodiles as “a most dainty dish”, meaning that reptile meat was also in demand. However, the nature of the discovery made at one of the Negev sites suggests that it was not the meat that the ancient inhabitants might have been after.
“The presence in Shivta of a dermal plate rather than a meat-bearing skeletal element may hint at the use of a skin, rather than meat of the animal. Its possible meaning cannot be ascertained and could have ranged from an exotic/expensive status marker to ritual paraphernalia”, the article concludes.