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Animals in ancient Egypt

By
Venice I Attia
Throughout the history of Ancient Egypt, animals were highly respected. In no other
culture have animals been as influential in so many aspects of life, nor has any culture
depicted animals as often in their artwork or writing. It is estimated that 1 in every 4 or 5
Egyptian hieroglyphs relates to animals. Egyptians believed that animals were crucial to
both physical and spiritual survival—vital to physical survival because they were a major
source of food and to spiritual survival based on how well a person treated animals during
their life on earth. Some animals were considered to be literal incarnations of the gods, and
therefore, it is understandable why Egyptians would have wanted to hold such animals in
the highest regard, giving them a proper burial through mummification. The Egyptian
religion taught of life after death. In order to determine a person’s admittance or denial to
the afterlife, the gods would ask a series of judgment questions. One of these crucial
questions would be whether they had mistreated any animals during their life on earth.
Because of this religious belief, the killing of an animal was considered a serious crime
punishable by death. Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian from the 1st century B.C.,
witnessed the lynching of a Roman who had accidentally killed a cat during a visit to
Egypt., this punishment frightened Egyptians to the point that if one would happen upon a
dead animal, they would flee from it as to avoid the accusation of being its killer.

Types of animal mummies
Votive offerings
The majority of Egyptian animal mummies were religious offerings. If an Egyptian sought
a favor from a god, he would purchase or make an offering and place it at the appropriate
temple of the god he wished to please. Before animal mummification became common,
these offerings were usually bronze statues depicting the animals. However, eventually a
cheaper alternative to bronze statues—animal mummies—became the most popular form
of offering. Literally millions of these mummified animals have been discovered throughout
Egypt. Inspection of these mummies, usually done through CT scans which allow
researchers to examine the skeletons of the mummies without damaging the outer
wrappings, has suggested that these types of animals were bred for the sole purpose of
offerings. As the process of animal mummification for the purpose of offerings grew,
mummification techniques became progressively less meticulous. Studies have revealed
many of the large-scale animal offerings to be ‘fakes’ — the wrappings containing only a

Egyptians would surround human mummies by what are known as victual mummies. Over time. mongooses. These animals were prepared by dehydrating the meat and wrapping it in linen bandages. thus two main types of worship distinguished the cults 1. This food was included in tombs in order to sustain the deceased person’s soul. A variety of food has been found in many tombs. and birds. Many Egyptians loved their pets. The animals’ necks were often broken. Religious purposes Ancient Egyptian religion was characterized by polytheism. animals in Egypt were occasionally mummified for a more personal reason—as beloved pets that were to keep the deceased company in the afterlife. an indication that their sole purpose was to be sacrificed as offerings. religious cults emerged for the worship of each specific god. gazelles. dogs. meats. King Tutankhamen’s tomb contained several coffin shaped wooden boxes containing this type of mummified animal. each representative of a different element of the natural world. monkeys. but the animals were nonetheless carefully preserved using natron salt and other special salts. thus before the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. called the ka. The animals were raised in temples. Pets Long before animal mummies were used as religious offerings. and the .selecting an animal to represent the god.worshiping the god through mass mummified animal offerings and 2. reeds. which was mummified at the time of its death. not pets. mostly breads. The most common Egyptian pets included cats. They were not mummified to the same meticulous extent that a pet or human mummy would be. feathers. In order to bring food to the afterlife.few bones. or pieces of pottery. These gods were usually depicted as having a human body and an animal head. to indicate that the animals were food. such as duck and other types of meat. there were a tremendous number of gods. after the unification. during the journey to the next world. Afterlife food Egyptians believed that the afterlife would be a continuation of this one. allowing for the transportation of items from this life to the next. and fowl. which means the belief in multiple gods. and sold to pilgrims or regular citizens. wood. a more limited list of gods developed.

Egyptians believed that mummification was imperative in order to gain admittance to the afterlife. Finally. there was a small. and the most famous example is the Theban Queen Makare’s adult Green Monkey (Chlorocebusaethiops). thus when her tomb was discovered. there were so many cat mummies that at the end of the 19th century. At Beni -Hasan. indicating their masters’ affection toward the animals. had his dog mummified. Archaeological findings confirmed that pets were mummified. Makare’s half-sister. Prince Tuthmosisof the Dynasty XVIII was also buried with his cat which was mummified and placed in a stone coffin in his tomb. was discovered buried with a mummified gazelle in her tomb. Similarly. another Egyptian. evidenced by over 70 names deciphered inscriptions identifying pet dog mummies. not a child. During . Cats that were bred to become offerings of this type usually died due to strangulation or the breaking of their necks. Examples of Egyptian mummified animals Cats Cats were mummified as religious offerings in enormous quantities and were believed to represent the war goddess Bastet. but this was not possible because Queen Makare was a High Priestess who had taken a vow of celibacy. an x-ray was done on the small mummy. If this had been her child. mummified bundle near her feet. Esemkhet. named Hapymen. thousands of cat mummies have been found at the catacombs of Saqqara. in 1968. and it was determined to be an adult Green Monkey (Chlorocebusaethiops).customary process of mourning the loss of a loved pet included crying and shaving one’s eyebrows. This cult was primarily centered at Thebes and BeniHasan beginning in the Ptolemaic Period. which was believed to be her child. Ancient Egyptian pets were given names like we name our pets today. Pets were often depicted on the tombs of Egyptians. and placed at the side of his coffin. and therefore the mummification of these pets would ensure the animals’ immorality. it would have meant that she had broken the oath she had taken as High Priestess. In addition. a total of 19 tons of mummified Egyptian cats were shipped to England to be used as fertilizer.

Thoth.mummification. obsidian or rock crystal eyes. Ibis birds The ibis cult was established during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods and was dedicated to the god of wisdom.000 mummified offerings per year. Saqqara alone is estimated to contain nearly 500. They were either positioned with their limbs folded closely to their bodies or in a sitting. Usually. Early in the development of animal mummification. cat mummies were placed in little bronze or wooden sarcophagi. Mummification of the ibis included desiccation and evisceration. coffins or sarcophagi. the head and neck of the bird were bent backwards and pressed on the body. The wrapping was usually completed through intricate. . The body was then dipped in tar and wrapped tightly with linen.000 of these mummies and is also thought to have produced 10. After serving their ritual purposes. the mummified bodies were placed in ceramic pots. More expensive mummies were typically adorned with features drawn in black paint and colored glass. as many times the mummies contained only a part of the body. geometric patterns. the mummification became less precise. approximately four million ibis burials have been discovered at the catacombs of Tuna el-Gebel area. sand or some other kind of packing material. the cat bodies would be dried and filled with soil. The vast number of mummified ibises suggests that this was done in a mass production. As time went by. Kittens and fetuses were mummified and buried inside the stomach of a statue that represented their mother. lifelike position. The number of mummified ibises is extraordinary. like all mummies designed for this purpose.

like many other sorts of animal offerings. However. crocodile mummies. Ra. When found in extremely large quantities. less effort was exerted in their mummification and eventually consisted simply of cloth wrappings and the application of resin. as mummification gradually became a production process. contained only reeds or random body parts.Baboons Baboons also represented the God Thoth. often used to terrify enemies during war. Most baboons were mummified with plaster and buried in wooden coffin boxes. dead crocodiles were lavishly mummified with gold and other precious things. a preserving agent. Crocodiles The crocodile was regarded as an extremely fierce animal. and the sun god. indulged until they died. which contained the organs of human mummies. The appearance of baboons on canopic jars. The crocodile cult was devoted to Sobek. god of fertility. In the early years of this cult. . Baboon mummies that have been discovered have provided significant evidence that they were bred and mummified as offerings. crocodiles were raised in a life of complete luxury. Typically. though the numbers of baboon mummies that have been discovered are not as large as cats or ibises. indicates the animals’ cultural significance. the god of the moon as well as the god of wisdom. Around 400 were discovered at the tombs of Saqqara. baboons were reared in mass quantities at temples.

black circles representing the eyes were painted on the hardened linen. Its internal organs would be destroyed through intra-anal oils. lavishly pampered for its entire life. Priests believed that the Abis bull was a medium of communication between the two creator gods. at which time they were killed. permanently encasing the mummies. the Abis bull cult considered the bull to be a symbol of strength and fertility. scientists are unable to conclude if the organs were typically removed during the process of mummification.Bulls The Abis bull cult originated as early as 800 B. but due to the deteriorating condition of the mummies. Many times. ensuring the bull still looked like itself. At Memphis. These sacred animals were allowed to die a natural death unless they reached the age of 28. the entire country went into mourning. They were wrapped in linen and held together by bands of cloth soaked in resin. afforded an elaborate funeral and intricate burial procedures. the process of mummification was complicated. Fish Fish were mummified in mass quantities as offerings to the god. While alive. When an Abis bull died. .C. representing the creator gods Ptah and Osiris. the center of the cult -big alabaster embalming tables were constructed with engravings and fluid drainage channels. the bull would be transported to these tables where it would be strapped to the table. Mummification was a key part in the worshipping of these animals. Because the bulls were so large. The animal’s body would be dried using natron salt and packed with sand then wrapped in linen sheets.The earliest and largest of all animal cults. after the funerary ceremonies. the bull would be housed in a special temple. Several species of fish have been identified. Artificial eyes and an artistic plaster head would be added. so its movements were carefully observed and sometimes consulted as an oracle.

Other animals Other animals were mummified corresponding to the god they represented Beetles (Cherpera) Mongoose/Shrew (Horus) Dogs/Jackals (Anubis) Serpent/Eel (Atum) .