Ancient Egyptian Animal Mummies Often Not Actually Mummified Animals

In Depth

According to a new study, many animal mummies from ancient Egypt contain zero mummified animal. Cats are maybe not 100% pure unadulterated cat; ibises might be mud and some feathers. I’m sorry but the window for refunds has quite definitely closed.

That’s according to the BBC, reporting on findings by the Manchester Museum and the University of Manchester. In a pretty neato application of modern technology, they’ve been scanning a bunch of animal mummies they’ve got lying around. Around a third contain precisely zilch in the way of skeletons. Said Egyptologist Dr. Lidija McKnight:

Instead, she explained, the linen was padded out with other items.
“Basically, organic material such as mud, sticks and reeds, that would have been lying around the embalmers workshops, and also things like eggshells and feathers, which were associated with the animals, but aren’t the animals themselves.”

Now, these were not the ancients’ pets; rather, you’d pick one up as an offering. This was a hugely popular practice, and researchers suggest that there just weren’t enough animals to keep up. But they also say it wasn’t a scam—not exactly. McKnight added:

“We think they were mummifying pieces of animals that were lying around, or materials associated with the animals during their lifetime – so nest material or eggshells.
“They were special because they had been in close proximity with the animals – even though they weren’t the animals themselves.
“So we don’t think it’s forgery or fakery. It’s just that they were using everything they could find. And often the most beautifully wrapped mummies don’t contain the animal remains themselves.”

Maybe all ancient Egypt’s con men were busy selling “beachfront” condo tombs out in the middle of the desert. Better return on investment than hustling some baker or bricklayer over a mummified ibis, right?

Photo via AP Images. Cat and ibis coffins in the exhibit at Orange County’s Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, Calif., 2014.

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