See how they ran: morphological and functional aspects of skeletons from ancient Egyptian shrew mummies (Eulipotyphla: Soricidae: Crocidurinae)

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Sociology, Egyptology & Anthropology Department

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Neal Woodman; Alec T Wilken; Salima Ikram

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Research Article

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Journal of Mammalogy

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Animals served important roles in the religious cults that proliferated during the Late (ca. 747-332 BCE) and Greco-Roman Periods (332 BCE-CE 337) of ancient Egypt. One result was the interment of animal mummies in specialized necropolises distributed throughout the country. Excavation of a rock-tomb that was re-used during the Ptolemaic Period (ca. 309-30 BCE) for the interment of animal mummies at the Djehuty Site (TT 11-12) near Luxor, Egypt, was carried out in early 2018 by a Spanish-Egyptian team sponsored by the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid. The tomb burned sometime after deposition of the mummies, leaving behind abundant disassociated skeletal remains, primarily of avians, but also including two species of shrews (Soricidae): Crocidura olivieri and C. religiosa. To investigate possible intraspecific variation in morphology and locomotor function in these two species during the last two millennia, we measured morphological features of individual postcranial bones from the two archaeological samples and calculated indices that have been used to assess locomotor function. We compared the measurements to those from modern C. olivieri, C. religiosa, and C. suaveolens using principal components analysis, and we compared locomotor indices to those we calculated for the three modern species of Crocidura and to those from nine species of myosoricine shrews. Osteological features of the postcranial skeleton of conspecific Ptolemaic and modern samples of C. olivieri and C. religiosa are generally similar in character and proportion, and, skeletally, these shrews and modern C. suaveolens are consistent with soricids having a primarily ambulatory locomotor mode. One exception is the deltopectoral crest of the humerus, which appears to be longer in modern C. religiosa. Despite general conservation of form and function, Ptolemaic C. olivieri had larger body size than modern Egyptian populations and were more similar in size to modern C. olivieri nyansae from Kenya than to modern C. olivieri olivieri from Egypt.

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