History : Aug-Sep 2015
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 15 Pets Preserved for All Time THE MANY MUMMIFIED ANIMALS found in Egypt have revealed the different roles they played in society. In addition to mummifying pets, especially cats and dogs, Egyptians embalmed animals such as fish and ducks to provide sustenance to the deceased in the afterlife. Crocodiles and ibises were mummified and used as religious offerings. Egyptian pets confirms this. Most have the glossy fur and strong bones suggestive of a steady, balanced diet. The affection this implies extended beyond life and into death, as house- hold animals were considered worthy companions for the grave. Besides be- ing mourned, they were mummified in a complex, time-consuming, and costly procedure. The animal’s body was placed on a special embalming table and its in- nards removed through an incision in its side. Dissolving agents might also be injected through the animal’s anus, quickly destroying its internal organs. Anything extracted was cleaned, steeped in aromatic substances, and then replaced in the abdominal cavity. By this stage, the animal’s body would have been dried with natron, a type of salt, and filled with myrrh, cinnamon, and other expensive products. Resin-based unguents and various perfumed oils were applied before the body was tightly wrapped with linen bandages. The embalmed pet would then be placed in its own coffin or sarcophagus and, when the time came, buried near its owners. The great ex- pense and effort incurred in the pro- cess suggests the emotional value owners attached to their pets. A Gazelle for a Princess One of the finest and most delicate of all mummified pets discovered is that of a gazelle. Historians believe that it belonged to the family of Pharaoh Pinedjem II, who died around 969 b.c.—probably to his sister-wife, Queen Isitemkheb D. Analysis of this animal shows it to have been a four-year-old female that died of natural causes. The gazelle’s body, still wearing several collars, was wrapped in linen bandages and placed in a sarcophagus carved out of syca- more and beautifully shaped to show the animal’s outline. Some Egyptians took this custom even further and had the mummified corpse of their favorite pets placed directly in their own sarcophagi. Carefully mummified dogs have been found curled up at the feet of their dead owners. Perhaps pet and master had slept like this in life, and it was comforting to the owner to believe that they would continue the custom as they shared the long journey be- yond the grave. — Juan José Sánchez Arreseigor 1 Cat Cats became especially fashionable as pets during the Greco-Roman period, from around the fourth century b.c. 3 Mongoose A noted hunter of snakes, the mongoose was associated with the sun god Ra, who fought the giant snake Apophis. 2 Fish Mummified fish have been found in many tombs. They were food for the dead on the journey to the afterlife. 4 Dog Companions both at home and on the hunt, dogs had been buried with their owners since the predynastic period. 5 Crocodile Mummified animals were often given to the gods. Crocodiles were offered to Sobek in his temple at El Faiyum. 1. SCALA, FLORENCE 2. LOUVRE MUSEUM/ALBUM 3. AKG/ALBUM 4. CORBIS/CORDON PRESS 5. EGYPTIAN MUSEUM, CAIRO/CORBIS/CORDON PRESS 1 2 4 5 3 Learn more BOOKS The Cat in Ancient Egypt Jaromir Malek, British Museum Press, 2006. Divine Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt Salima Ikram, American University in Cairo Press, 2005.