Explore / Articles

 

Egyptian animal mummies

The Egyptians believed that their gods and goddesses could appear on earth in the forms of animals or birds.

Each creature represented an aspect of the personality of a deity and each deity had one or more sacred animals with which he or she was associated. For example, Amun is associated with the goose and ram, and Thoth with the ibis and baboon.

Sacred animals were often kept in the precinct of their associated deity's temple. The animals lived a life of luxury, and were mummified and buried with great ceremony. By the Late Period (about 661-332 BC), all members of the species associated with a deity were regarded as sacred.

A few individual animals were considered to be the incarnation of the god on earth. The Apis bull at Memphis is the most famous example. In life it was regarded as the sacred oracle of the god Ptah. When the Apis bull died it was buried in the catacombs of the Serapeum at Saqqara. The Buchis bull was treated in a similar way at Armant.

Animal burials are found at all periods, but the systematic production of animal mummies for sale and subsequent burial as votive objects began in earnest in the Late Period (661-332 BC), and continued into Roman times. Vast catacombs of animal mummies have been found in various places; the creatures were clearly bred for the purpose and X-rays of examples now in museum collections show that some were deliberately killed.

Shop Online

Images of cats from the British Museum collection, £9.99

Images of cats from the British Museum collection, £9.99