This week’s reading introduced the concept of ancient Egyptian animal mummification. While animal mummification has been mentioned previously in class, I was unaware that the practice of animal mummification was so prolific within the Egyptian culture. A recent BBC news article wrote a report of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection of mummified Egyptian animals (O’Brien, 2011, associated photograph). The Smithsonian’s collection is comprised of not only domestic animals such as cats and dogs, but also wild animals such as baboons and falcons. Like the Serapeum, where the Apis bull was buried, the text also reports numerous subterranean galleries containing the mummified remains of baboons, falcons, hawks and ibises (Bard, 2008, p.282). Interestingly, not all animal mummies were real (Bard 2008). Within many of the subterranean galleries of mummified animals, archaeologists also uncovered “fake” mummies. Instances of twigs or bird feathers wrapped in linen represent the “fake” mummified animals. Intimately tied to the mummification industry in Egypt was the development of animal cults. Animal cults consisted of the churches of the sacred animal which were linked to the animal deities themselves (Watrall, class lecture 11/29/2012). One site containing the “Cemetery of Cats” was known to draw cult members on their pilgrimage to worship the cat-goddess Bastet (Bard, 2008, p.283). The pilgrims would leave mummified animals as offerings to their cult and many of the animal cults had strong ties to beliefs in fertility and procreation (Bard, 2008, p.283). Unsurprisingly, mummified animals make up the core of many Egyptian museum collections, because they were either sold or given away as gifts to foreign visitors (Watrall, class lecture 11/29/2012). The symbolism behind the animal mummification industry also holds significance for the Egyptian religious belief system. It is fascinating to learn that not only humans were embalmed and mummified, but also their animal offerings. Therefore, the afterlife was obtainable by both man and beast. Was animal mummification an attempt to “re-populate” the afterlife with the beauty of nature as they saw it in life? Or did the Egyptians simply view the animal mummification industry as a sort of production line for the creation of offerings to the gods?
Bard, Kathryn A. (2008). An Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.
O’Brien, Jane. (2011). Unwrapping the Ancient Egyptian Animal Mummy Industry. BBC News, Washington. Accessed November 28, 2012.