A century is one hundred years and the civilization of the Egyptian people was nearly 30 centuries long. The unification of the people of upper and lower Egypt by King Menes created the first recorded dynasty around the Nile, as he founded the capital of ancient Egypt at White Walls (later known as Memphis).
The religious ancient Egyptians believed that after their death, they lived a second eternal life in another world underneath Egypt and that they ought to take with them the kind of things necessary to them as in their first life. The important rulers and Pharaohs planned on having furniture, clothing, ornaments including jewelry and gold, food and drink, servants, and their favorite pets and animals. And prior to their death, these things were stored in their tombs. Other items were carved in relief or painted on tomb walls and their scribes often wrote spells, chants and prayers to help guide them through the dangers until they were safe forever.
The rich and devout worshipped gods and deities and many were depicted as humans, while others looked like animals or a combination of both. The fabulous Sphinx has the body of a lion and the face of a pharaoh.
They also had rituals that emphasized the life force or soul of the person. When someone died, the physical body released Ka, like a personality, which could eat and drink, but remained in the tomb in the form of a mummy. Another part, the Ba—was often shown as a body with wings—was the soul and made it possible for the person to go on journeys with their gods, only to unite the body with a divide spark called the Akh. Then, a test in the underworld to become the Sahu took place, before reaching the afterlife. Mummification was practiced in order to preserve the body; amulets and magical texts were included within the burial chamber to address the other spiritual facets which made up an individual.
Ancient Egyptians created animal mummies because they were household pets, or else they held special importance to the humans around them. Some mummified animals were intended as food offerings in the afterlife. Many cats, ibis, cows, falcons, baboons and vultures were created to serve as sacred gifts for the gods.
The exact embalming procedures involved in pet mummification remains largely unknown. Richard Evershed, a researcher focusing on mummified animals at the University of Bristol, England says, “The mummification process just isn’t documented by the ancient Egyptians, which is why we are doing the chemical analysis. It was a secretive process.”
The ancient Egyptians were well-acquainted with how the desert treated bodily tissues because they had originally buried their dead in pits in the desert sand. The dry heat preserved the body, but it would shrink and darken. In order to arrest the bacteria that decays bodies and tissue, they built coffins and tombs and they practiced with wrapping the body in linen wrappings. It wasn’t the answer until they soaked the linen in resin and oils, but then the decay rotted the internal organs. Their response was to remove the organs and place the linen-wrapped innards in canopic jars.
Embalming, a method of washing the body, removing the brain through the nose, and removing the vital organs—except the heart—rinsing the cavities with wine and filling them with spices and stuffing with linens was employed. Finally, the body was filled and covered with natron and left to dry for 40 days. After drying they removed the stuffing, used fresh natron, filled the body with sawdust and wrapped it methodically in linens soaked in pine tree resin and beeswax. Certain amulets were placed in the wraps and the embalmers cast spells and prayed as they wrapped.
The researchers use gas chromatography and mass spectrometry—methods so sensitive else the mummy disintegrate—so scientists can detect and identify different chemicals in fragments weighing as little as a tenth of a milligram (three and a half millionths of an ounce).
Animal mummies revealed the presence of various natural products found in human embalming including animal fats, oils, beeswax, sugar gum, bitumen, and pine tree resins.
Animals were viewed not only as pets, but as incarnations of gods. As such, the Egyptians buried millions of mummified cats, birds, and other creatures at temples honoring their deities. Using CT scans some mummies held complete cat skeletons. They even folded the forelegs and paws and laid them over its belly in a position similar to the placement of arms in human mummies
Several incarnations were:
- cats as Bastet, goddess of music and joy and protector of women
- the Apis bull, a sacred animal known as the incarnation of Osiris, god of embalming and cemeteries
- hawks were Horus, the god of light
- ibises with Thoth, the god of wisdom and learning
- and so on.
X-rays have revealed any of these animals were killed deliberately, that the huge numbers of cats found in temple cemeteries had their necks broken while still relatively young. Lizard, fish, and even beetle mummies from ancient Egypt have been unearthed.
An industry developed where animals were available for purchase or barter at sacred sites. People would buy them and give them to priests as gifts for the gods. This process became so widespread, archeologists have found 30 catacombs in Egypt, each one dedicated to a single animal and each packed floor to ceiling with mummies, for a total numbering in the millions.
The Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) once lived in Egypt; visits to tombs find them in many Egyptian sculptures and on wall murals. Not only was the ibis’ representative of the god Toth—in practical use the villagers used them to rid fishponds of water snails—the bearer of dangerous liver parasites.
Archaeologists had previously suspected the African sacred ibis was domestically bred in order to produce the incredible number of mummies found across Egypt. But researchers can find no archaeological evidence of large-scale ibis hatcheries. The African Ibis went extinct sometime around 1850.
Dr. Lidija McKnight, an Egyptologist from the University of Manchester, estimate that some 70 million of these mummies were produced over 1,200 years, from roughly 800 B.C. into the Roman period, which ended around 400 A.D.
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Rice, Herweck Dona. Making a Mummy. Huntington Beach, CA: Smithsonian, Teacher Created Materials, 2019. Book.
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Smithsonian Magazine. “DNA Suggests Ancient Egypt’s Millions of Ibis Mummies Were Wild-Caught Birds”
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Thoth. Wikipedia (feature photo)