The Missing Snakes

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A new study on a 2,300-year-old medical document suggests that ancient Egypt had more venomous snakes than today, Newsweek reported.

Scientists recently analyzed the contents of the Brooklyn Papyrus, an ancient scroll dating from 660-330 BCE.

Kept in New York City’s Brooklyn Museum, the medical treatise is one of the oldest preserved writings about medicine, and the study of snakes – known as ophiology.

A research team explained that the scroll lists in great detail a variety of snakes, how venomous they were, and how to treat their bites. Still, there are some species that remain unknown, partly because they no longer slither around modern-day Egypt.

Their study focused on 10 unidentified reptiles, including a highly venomous snake that was associated with the ancient Egyptian god Apophis, who took the form of a serpent.

The researchers used a statistical model called “climate niche modeling” to explore how the territories of different African and eastern Mediterranean snakes changed over time. Their findings showed that early ancient Egypt’s climate could have supported nine of the 10 species, adding that the region’s inhabitants dealt with a larger variety of venomous snakes.

This included the “great snake of Apophis,” which had four fangs and a venom that could “make the victim bleed from every orifice,” the team wrote in the Conversation.

They explained that the legendary snake could have been a boomslang that currently resides in the savannas of sub-Saharan Africa. It also sports four fangs and packs a venom that causes fatal hemorrhages.

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