Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Saturday, 23 May 2015

TOPKAPI'S MUMMIFIED CROCODILE BOY AND AMERICA'S MONKEYFIED ALLIGATOR MEN - A CURIOUS QUARTET OF GENUINE FAKES!


Postcard depicting Jake the Alligator Man (© Marsh's Free Museum)

On 1 March 1992, Turkish archaeologists publicly announced the discovery of an extraordinary Egyptian mummy in the vaults of Istanbul's famous Topkapi Palace Museum during some recent restoration work there. It was concealed inside a wooden sarcophagus (whose form confirmed it as having originated in ancient Egypt), and when carefully unwrapped it was found to consist of the upper parts of a young boy fused to the lower half of a crocodile!

The explanation for this bizarre specimen is still unknown. Some researchers have speculated that the boy may have been killed and partially eaten by the crocodile while bathing (or after accidentally falling) in Egypt's Nile River – and that in order for him to possess a complete body with which to pass into the afterlife, his parents arranged for his reptilian murderer to be killed and for the section of its body corresponding to the devoured portion of their son's to be attached to the boy's remains. However, this theory seems no less grotesque than the mummy itself!

Photocopy of a photograph - click to enlarge - depicting Topkapi's mummified crocodile boy being examined by the museum's Assistant Director of Restoration and Conservation, Behçet Erdal – from a report dated 1 March 1992 in the Turkish newspaper MeydanMeydan – photocopy courtesy of Paul Sieveking/Fortean Times via Izzet Goksu)

A more plausible possibility is that the pseudo-conjoined mummy was deliberately created as a sacred artefact or offering by worshippers of Sebek (aka Sobek), ancient Egypt's crocodile-headed god of rivers and lakes. It may even have been produced as a clever fraud for exhibition purposes – in modern times, such specimens are popularly referred to as gaffs; if so, this would make it one of the earliest gaffs ever recorded.

Line drawing from 1885 of Sebek, ancient Egypt's crocodile-headed deity (public domain)

As yet, I have not succeeded in discovering whether this unique specimen is on public display at Topkapi. So if anyone reading this ShukerNature blog article can provide me with some relevant details, I'd be very grateful.

Similar monstrosities were once very popular in carnivals and sideshows, especially in America, and at least one such creation still is today. Known as Jake the Alligator Man and constituting the upper half of a monkey skeleton skilfully attached to the lower half of a small alligator, this famous specimen has been on display for many years at Marsh's Free Museum [http://www.marshsfreemuseum.com/] – a thoroughly fascinating, highly-recommended exhibition of wonders and curiosities in Long Beach, Washington (not California, as often erroneously claimed) – and is said to be more than 75 years old.

Jake the Alligator Man (© imhavingfun42/Wikipedia)

Indeed, every year for almost a decade now there has been an official Annual Jake the Alligator Man 75th Birthday Party held in Long Beach. A short YouTube video of Jake on display at Marsh's Free Museum can be viewed here.

Incidentally, a much more common variant on this particular gaff theme is of course the so-called 'Feejee mermaid' (named after the famous specimen exhibited by American circus showman Phineas T. Barnum in 1842), which consists of the upper half of a monkey sewn to the lower half of a large fish.

19th-Century engraving of Barnum's Feejee mermaid (public domain)

Jake was purchased by the founders of Marsh's Free Museum in 1967 from an antique store in California, for the princely sum of $750, and was allegedly created by a New York-based firm known as Nelson Supply House. Jake subsequently featured in a series of highly entertaining albeit fictitious reports published by the American tabloid Weekly World News and beginning on 9 November 1993, which claimed that it had been found alive in a Florida swamp!

The headline from the first in the series of Jake the Alligator Man reports from Weekly World NewsWeekly World News)

More recently, a man named Josh brought a similar gaff into the curiosities shop Obscura featured in the Science Channel TV show Oddities, and sold it to the shop's proprietors for $450. A YouTube video of this interesting episode, uploaded by Science Channel on 1 June 2011 and showing the gaff in close-up detail, can be viewed here.

The Oddities alligator man (© Science Channel)

I also know of a third American alligator man specimen, but, sadly, its present whereabouts are apparently unknown (or at least to me). I have on file a copy of a report from 1996 written by Chris L. Murphy from the organisation Progressive Research, based in British Columbia, Canada. In his report, Chris documented his recollections of what appears to have been an outstanding alligator man, which he encountered while visiting the little town of Seaside, in Oregon, during the summer of 1976. Going into a large general store in the centre of the town, he discovered that it contained a free museum, and exhibited in that museum, housed inside a glass case, was a remarkable specimen labelled as an Alligator Boy. In his report, Chris described it as follows:

"The creature in the case was human looking to about its navel, and the rest of its body was that of an alligator. The human part was "upright," fairly erect as I recall. I studied the creature for a long time and reasoned that it was the body of a child, say about two years old, that had been fused onto the body of a small alligator. The child's body was "mummy-like" in appearance but still had considerable detail. I recall especially its hair, which was very fine and white, very much like the hair one would find on a child of this age, except for the color.

"The process used to fuse the bodies was certainly very exacting. The smooth skin of the child melded in with the scaly alligator skin very gradually, making the creature appear very realistic. I carefully studied the head, hands (which were very small), arms and other parts of the body and reasoned that it would be very difficult to fake something of that nature. In other words, I believe the human portion of the creature was the body of a real child. Unfortunately, there was no literature on the exhibit, and I did not take a photograph of it."

Chris revisited Seaside in or around 1993, intending to photograph the alligator boy, but when he arrived in town he discovered that the general store and its in-house museum were gone, replaced by a clothing store. When Chris spoke to a couple concerning the store and its alligator boy, the man informed him that he'd lived in Seaside most of his life and remembered this specimen well, but stated that some time before the store had closed down, it had been robbed and the alligator boy stolen from it.

A second postcard depicting Jake the Alligator Man (© Marsh's Free Museum)

Another Seaside resident, the proprietor of a jewellery store there, informed Chris that there was an alligator man on display at a free museum in Long Beach, Washington (Jake the Alligator Man at Marsh's Free Museum, obviously) and wondered whether this could be the same specimen as the one that had vanished from Seaside's erstwhile store-museum. Anxious to pursue this potential lead, on his way back home to British Columbia Chris stopped by in Long Beach and visited its alligator man. However, he could see straight away that this was a totally different specimen, its body held at an angle, not erect, and, at least in Chris's opinion, of inferior workmanship to the Seaside specimen that he had seen back in 1976. Moreover, he was able to chat with the museum's owner in Long Beach, who confirmed that he had purchased Jake in California (and a decade before Chris had seen the Seaside specimen anyway), and was unaware of any comparable gaffs anywhere else.

Having not seen the Seaside specimen personally, I am reluctant to discount Chris's opinion that it incorporated the head and upper body portion of a real human child, but it does seem more likely that these constituents of this gaff were actually derived from a monkey. Having said that, however, gaffs can be inordinately sturdy (especially if well-constructed), and hence are sometimes extremely old – dating back to times when, whereas albeit entirely abhorrent today, the prospect of such a macabre exhibit having been purposefully created would have been neither unthinkable nor impossible, as exemplified by Topkapi's mummified crocodile boy.

Meanwhile: whatever happened to the Seaside alligator boy? (Not only is it not Jake the Alligator Man, it is not the specimen sold on Oddities either, because the latter's body was not erect in posture but instead was held at an angle, just like Jake's.) Does it still exist today, and, if so, where is it? And are there still other alligator man gaffs also out there? If you know of any, or have any information concerning the presently lost Seaside specimen, please post details here on ShukerNature – thanks again!

Two Turkish newspaper reports from 1 March 1992 - click to enlarge - concerning the Topkapi mummified crocodile boy, one from Meydan, the other from HürriyetMeydan/(© Hürriyet - photocopies courtesy of Paul Sieveking/Fortean Times via Izzet Goksu)


UPDATE: 24 May 2015 - CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER...

After reading my above blog article and perusing the two photographs of Topkapi's mummified crocodile boy, longstanding crypto-correspondent Hodari Nundu was intrigued by the presence of a crocodile's head and apparent upper body portion within the sarcophagus but at the opposite end to the mummy's human head, and he wondered if in reality the mummy was actually composed of the head and upper body portion of a boy fused at the posterior edge of the boy's upper body portion to the posterior edge of the upper body portion of a crocodile, with its neck and head still present too. In other words, is it a veritable amphisbaena in mummified form, i.e. consisting of a single body with a head at each end (the boy's head at one end of the body, the crocodile's at the other)? If so, this would make the mummy even more bizarre than it already appeared to be. 

Yet according to both of the Turkish newspaper reports, as well as a subsequent report in the UK's prestigious Sunday Times newspaper for 8 March 1992, it was definitely the lower body portion of a crocodile that was fused to the boy's upper body portion (the Sunday Times report even referred specifically to the mummy incorporating the crocodile's tail). Also worth recalling is the mention in the Turkish reports of the theory that perhaps the boy's parents had arranged for the portion of the boy eaten by the crocodile (which was obviously his lower body portion, because his upper portion and head are incorporated into the mummy) to be replaced by the corresponding body portion of the crocodile (hence the crocodile's lower body portion) in order for their son to possess a whole body with which to pass into the afterlife.

Consequently, two different explanations for this ostensible contradiction come to mind. Either the crocodile head and upper body portion are not actually attached to the mummy but are merely lying on top of its crocodilian lower body portion and tail, thereby obscuring them from view in the photographs (the crocodile head and upper body portion presumably therefore having also been placed inside the sarcophagus, rather than merely being discarded, after the composite mummy had been produced and laid in there); or the Turkish newspaper reports (and thence that of the Sunday Times, which most likely obtained its information from Turkish media sources) were in error, and that in reality the mummy is indeed a crocodile-human amphisbaena in terms of its composition and construction.

Also today, on my 'Animal Discoveries and Curiosities' Facebook group's page, Hodari posted the following data:

"I did find some stuff online, including a Turkish news report from 2007 according to which the mummy would soon be put in display at the Topkapi Palace Museum. The story states that the mummy’s age has not been determined even though it was submitted to the carbon 14 test; the age of the boy when he died was between seven and eight. According to the director of the Topkapi museum, the legend says that the boy was the son of an Egyptian dignitary who fell into the Nile and was eaten by a crocodile. The reptile was then killed with the boy still inside, and mummified. However, at least two sources state that more than one half child half crocodile mummies have been found throughout Egypt, and that the Topkapi “specimen” is only one of several. Which I find strange since one would expect such rarities would be better known. One of the sources does include a possible explanation; Harpocrates (the child-like aspect of the god Horus) is often represented as stepping or standing on top of a crocodile, which represents the chaotic and malignant forces of the universe, so according to them, the child emerging from the crocodile would have a similar meaning."

Thanks, Hodari! Occurring in late Greek mythology as developed in Ptolemaic Alexandria, Egypt, and adapted from the ancient Egyptian child-god Horus, Harpocrates was a child-deity, the god of silence and secrecy. He was variously portrayed in art forms standing in human form upon the back of a crocodile, or emerging from the jaws of a crocodile, or possessing either the entire lower body portion and tail of a crocodile or the tail alone of a crocodile.

Following up these leads, I have just discovered online a photograph of a drachm coin originating in Alexandria and dating from the time of the Roman emperor Trajan (reigned 98-117 AD) that depicts Harpocrates with the tail of a crocodile:

Crocodile-tailed Harpocrates on Trajan-dated drachm coin from Alexandria, Egypt (© Aeqvitas.com)

And here is a depiction of a crocodile-bodied Harpocrates on a silver ring in the collections of the University of Michigan's Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at Ann Arbor (click here for full details):

Close-up of silver ring depicting Harpocrates with a crocodile's body (© Christopher A. Faraone, Ann Arbor, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology)

Could it be, therefore, that Topkapi's mummified crocodile boy was intentionally created as a physical representation of Harpocrates? 

With all of these new developments and findings to hand, I am now even more eager than before to obtain further information concerning this unique specimen, so that its true nature can be confirmed. So if you have any details, please post them here - thanks very much!


This ShukerNature blog article is a greatly-expanded, fully-updated version of a short account of mine that originally appeared in my book The Unexplained: An Illustrated Guide to the World's Natural and Paranormal Mysteries (1996).






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