Sacred Animal Necropolis

The sacred animal necropolis came up in lecture this morning, and that happens to be what I’m interested in for my final paper. In case anyone else found that subject intriguing, I thought I’d share the site of archaeologist Paul T. Nicholson who is currently involved in digs at the necropolis in Saqqara.

Many of the animal catacombs were actually discovered because archaeologist W. B. Emery was looking for Imhotep’s tomb in Saqqara in the 1960s. More recently, at the entrance to the falcon catacomb, the team found a cache of votive bronzes that they have been working to conserve since the find in the 1990s. Current work at Saqqara under Nicholson has focused on dog catacombs associated with the temple of Anubis. The current goals for the excavation involve examining the bones of the canines, which is a newer area of interest at the animal necropolis. Also, because past notes about the site are faulty and incomplete, a complete survey of the catacombs is underway.

In class today, we came back to the issue of early Europeans and how they treated Ancient Egyptian sites. I’m biased because I think that animal mummification and the cults they were associated with are fascinating. It seems like a real loss to me that these mummies are spread so far and wide because they were so popular as souvenirs for European tourists. I’m curious what other people think about the issue. Is it a great loss that these mummies were removed in large numbers from the sites? How does it compare to the loss of royal mummies and the treasures from their tombs? Are we still more focused on the riches of pharaohs, and is that justifiable? I know that any losses from ancient sites mean a loss of information that might be really groundbreaking or illuminating. Is there even a way to gauge the potential that lost artifacts might have had?

3 thoughts on “Sacred Animal Necropolis

  1. I too find the subject of animal mummification and cults very interesting. I also think it is a shame that so many places dedicated to animals were vandalized and looted by greedy Europeans. I was amazed to learn in class that almost every museum has one of these mummified animals from when Europeans took them and were circulated throughout the world. The subject of looting and vandalism of archaeological sites is a topic I am writing about for my final paper in my Archaeology Policy and Law class this semester. It is amazing that there are still tons of underground trade networks today that are still doing what the Europeans did in the past, and sometimes it is impossible to shut them down.

    I do feel that many think that because these looted sites were only dedicated to animals that is not viewed as important as looted tombs of royalty. This is sad because these sites were almost just as important to the people of the ancient world as the tombs of people. Though they are just animals, we can still learn a lot about the people of the past and it is tragic that such information was lost do to the self-interest of others.

  2. I think any situation where an artifact is taken, and used as trophies is unfortunate. But, I think that one of the main reasons why archaeologists are more interested in human remains than animal necropli is because they’re human. Part of the time we can identify the mummy, and from that we can learn about his/her life and the overall quality of life in Ancient Egypt. Even if we cannot identify the mummy, paleopathological studies can provide information about diseases Ancient Egyptians may have faced. With animal remains, while it can give us insight into the treatment of animals and their importance in Ancient Egyptian spirituality and culture, the amount of information we can gather is much less than human remains.

    I agree with you – animal necropli are very interesting, and it does show how much Ancient Egyptians cared for animals, or the important representation of animals in Ancient Egyptian society. (This is coming from the girl who flushed 10 goldfish down the toilet). We can learn a lot from animal necropli, but we can learn more from graves, temples, and cemeteries (including human remains) which is why people may be more interested in studying human mummies opposed to animal mummies.

  3. I too have always had a bit of an interest in the mummification and respect of animals in Ancient Egypt. Until recently, I was actually under the impression that the Ancient Egyptians only held cats at a higher caliber. I think it is an extremely interesting part of the Egyptian culture that they place such a significance on domesticated animals. I often wonder if these animals served more of a “purpose?” Were they indicators of wealth or higher social status? Was owning an animal something that was highly common among citizens of the society?

    Now, after learning that you plan to write your research paper on the topic of the animal necropolis, I am excited and a bit anxious to read and learn more about these sacred animals. I know that tons of my questions will soon be answered and I am truly looking forward to that!

    Then to give an opinion on a few of your questions, I think it is a real shame that so many of these mummified animals and artifacts have been lost to smugglers and collectors before any sort of litigation was set to protect them. I hope that one day those artifacts can be recovered so we can learn from them and appreciate the Egyptian culture to its full potential.

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