• Weird History

Ancient Egyptians Mummified Animals, Too

Most people have heard about Ancient Egyptian mummies, whether it was in a museum or a classroom. They are one of the enduring symbols of Ancient Egypt and have been respected throughout the ages, but humans are not the only ones who were given the gift of eternal preservation. The Egyptians also created animal mummies, preserving dozens of different species from all across the region. Archaeologists have discovered millions of these animals, many of them mummified Egyptian pets. Others were prepared as offerings to the gods, with different animals representing different deities. For over 1,000 years, these creatures were carefully laid to rest by some of the most powerful people in Egypt.

For a long time it was believed that animal mummification was sloppier and more gruesome than human mummificiation, but researchers are beginning to paint a new picture of these sacrificial animals. Evidence suggests that mummified animals were treated with the same respect as human mummies, and they may have been a powerful forcein the local economy. These fascinating facts about animal mummies will break down everything you need to know about this intriguing tradition. 

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  • Photo: Louvre Museum / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Ancient Egyptians Believed Animals Had Souls

    Ancient Egyptian religion and mythology put a huge emphasis on animals, and it was believed that both humans and animals had souls.

    This belief was largely responsible for the popularity of animal mummies, as people believed mummification would help release its spirit. Once the spirit leaves the body, it is free to pass on messages to the afterlife. 

  • Photo: Brooklyn Museum / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Animal Mummies Were Likely Created In Much The Same Way As Human Mummies Were

    While animal mummies were thought to be treated with less care than their human counterparts, researchers have uncovered that this is not always the case. Careful analysis of animal mummies revealed traces of embalming materials that were commonly used in Egypt on humans. These substances included pine tree resin, animal fats, beeswax, sugargum, and oil. 

    The mummification process was long and complex, taking roughly 70 days for a typical human. Mummifiers applied various salts to the corpse to leach out as much moisture as possible. All vital organs were then removed, dehydrated, and placed into separate containers. Viscous liquids like beeswax and resin were then applied to the body to prevent any moisture from entering. Finally, the mummy was wrapped.

    The evidence suggests that the mummification process for animals was every bit as detailed and involved as it was for humans, but researchers need to learn more before they can make a definitive conclusion. 

  • Photo: Auckland Art Gallery / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Egyptians Used Mummified Animals As Offerings

    Animal mummies had several uses, but one of the most important was as a gift to the gods. Animals held a sacred position to the Egyptian people, and deities were often depicted as animals.

    If one wanted to offer an animal mummy up to a specific god, they would need to take a trip to a nearby temple. Many Egyptian holy sites had markets where citizens could buy or trade for an animal mummy, which could then be donated as an offering. After purchasing a mummy, worshippers would then bring it to a priest for burial.

    One archaeologist discovered numerous letters buried alongside mummies that shed some light on the motivations behind these offerings. Offering up an animal to the gods was often done in exchange for a divine favor, typically assistance in common day-to-day struggles.

  • Photo: Mario Sanchez / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Millions Of Animal Mummies Were Produced Over The Course Of 1,200 Years

    Saying that animal mummies are common would be a gross underestimate. One burial site that was uncovered contained the embalmed remains of 7 million dogs. Another site was found filled with 4 million ibis mummies.

    All in all, tens of millions of animal mummies have been discovered from 31 burial sites around Egypt.