Some Egyptian Mummies Were... Dummies!

May 17, 2015 By Aarathi
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Few things have both fascinated us as much as the mummies from Ancient Egypt.

Archeologists have unearthed many embalmed and preserved bodies from different locations and time periods. This is because mummification was an important part of that civilization’s burial rituals. Ancient Egyptians believed in life after death, and this was a way of ensuring passage to the afterlife.

However, not all mummies were humans. Earlier excavations at Saqqara near Cairo had uncovered over 30 catacombs, each dedicated to a single animal such as monkeys, crocodiles, dogs, and cats. And each contained millions of animal mummies, which appeared to be religious offerings to their gods.

Recently, a team of researchers from Manchester undertook a detailed study of over 800 specimens taken from Egypt. To their surprise, scans of many mummies revealed that not all contained animals inside. Let’s see what they found.

Significance Of Animal Mummies

The ancient Egyptians took the art of embalming to near-perfect levels. First, they removed some organs and body parts which decayed quickly. The embalmers used various minerals and oils for preservation. The mummy was dried (usually dehydrated by the desert sun itself) and wrapped in layers of linen. They then applied a coat of resin over the linen to prevent moisture. This process was not restricted to humans. Archeologists have found millions of animal mummies in different sites.

‘Mummy-worthy’ animals fell into 4 categories - pets, sacred creatures, food meant for the afterlife, or religious symbols. For instance, a rare mummy of a bull is believed to have been a physical representation of their god. Evidence suggests that this bull would have lived out its life in luxury, and ultimately been embalmed and buried with full honors! Pets were entombed with owners.

There was a huge demand for these animal mummies. In fact, according to one estimate, 70 million animal mummies were produced during the period between 800 B.C. and 400 A.D. That’s 1200 years! Many animals such as dogs and cats were reared specifically to serve this purpose. In fact, the ibis and baboons were killed to the point of extinction, since they were considered sacred to certain gods. Hawks and Falcons too were massacred in large numbers.

What The Scans Reveal

The team from the Manchester Museum and the University of Manchester used advancing imaging technology to conduct X-rays and CT scans.

They found that only a third of the animal mummies contained well-preserved animals. Another one-third had partial remains, but the remaining all were empty of animals - and contained common items from an animal’s surroundings, such as mud, eggshells, and feathers!

One specimen closely resembled a cat from the outside but contained only very few pieces of cat bone. However, the researchers feel that this was not a deliberate scam. Rather, items associated with animals during their life were also sacred and therefore could become offerings too.

The scans have also shown other secrets under the wrappings. Many of the animals were quite young when they were mummified. A crocodile mummy also contained 8 baby crocs. These findings could bring us closer to understanding the culture of Ancient Egypt even more.