Looking Inside Votive Creatures: Computed Tomography (CT) Scanning of Ancient Egyptian Mummified Animals in Iziko Museums of South Africa: A Preliminary Report

By Cornelius, I.; Swanepoel, L. C. et al. | Akroterion, Annual 2012 | Go to article overview

Looking Inside Votive Creatures: Computed Tomography (CT) Scanning of Ancient Egyptian Mummified Animals in Iziko Museums of South Africa: A Preliminary Report


Cornelius, I., Swanepoel, L. C., du Plessis, A., Slabbert, R., Akroterion


The aim of this article is to inform on the scanning of ancient Egyptian animal mummies in Iziko Museums of Cape Town. It looks at the types of animal mummies, describes the way in which animal mummies are studied, the project itself, the Stellenbosch CT scanner, and gives some preliminary results.

1. Animal mummies in ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptians believed in life after death and mummified their dead to preserve the body for 'eternity'. (2) They not only mummified humans, they also mummified a great variety of animals. As a matter of fact, they mummified many more animals than humans. Mummified animals comprise four types: pet mummies, food mummies, sacred animals and votive mummies. (3)

(i) Pet mummies. Pets such as cats and dogs accompanied their owners into the afterlife. Mummified animals are found in tombs or nearby, some buried in their own coffins. A dog was found in the Valley of the Kings and might have been a royal pet (Ikram 2005a:Fig. 1.2). A baby baboon was buried with queen Makatra, earlier thought to be a human (Partridge 1994:195-197, Figs. 171, 174). Hapymin was found with his dog curled up at his feet. (4) Another case is a pet gazelle from Deir el-Bahari (Ikram 2000:59).

(ii) Food mummies. Mummified animals or parts of animals served as food for the dead. Meat was dried as ancient Egyptian 'biltong' (Ikram 1995). Animals were specially prepared--there are, for example, joints of meat like a foreleg of a calf or whole birds like geese, which were wrapped and placed in special shaped coffins and were even given a 'roasted browning'. In the famous tomb of TutankhAmen there were 25 coffinettes containing food mummies. (5)

(iii) Sacred animals. This is the most famous group of animal mummies. There was the cult of the Apis bull (Dodson 2005) and the ram of Mendes (Redford 2010). The animal was mummified after death and ritually buried. (6)

(iv) Votives. These can be classified as votive offerings to specific deities: the cat to Bastet, the ibis to Thoth and the falcon to Horus. (7) Votive mummies of animals were especially popular in the Graeco-Roman period after 300 BC and ending with the advent of Christianity during the 4th century AD. Mummies were donated by pilgrims and ritually buried in special containers in niches in catacombs attached to temples. This is the largest number of mummified animals, of which there are millions; there are estimates offour million for Tuna el-Gebel Hermopolis and new discoveries at Saqqara estimate eight million dog mummies (El-Aref 2013). These mummies served as a sort of 'prayer' to a certain deity, like lighting a candle in a church (Ikram 2005a:9). A plea to a god like Thoth might have been written on linen and wrapped around the mummified animals (Ray 2005:177-178). (8)

2. The study of animal mummies

The study of ancient Egyptian animal mummies goes back to the birth of Egyptology. Napoleon's expedition (Gillispie & Dewachter 1987:Pls. 51, 53-55) brought back animal mummies and already in 1834 Pettigrew (169ff.) described animal mummies. The topic is currently receiving much scholarly attention. There is for example the very important animal mummy project of Salima Ikram, who is working on the mummies in the Cairo Museum. (9) There is also the project of Kessler of the Ludwig Maximilians-Universitat Munchen, who is working at Tuna al-Gebel (10) and at the University of Manchester there is the Ancient Egyptian Animal Bio Bank Project. (11) On the Web there is the Animal Mummy Database. (12) Many publications have appeared in recent years in Egyptological literature, more popular magazines like National Geographic (e.g. Williams 2009), but also in scientific journals (e.g. Kurushima et al 2012). The leading author on the subject of animal mummification is Ikram (e.g. 2005).

The study of Egyptian animal mummies involves various research questions:

* Where was the mummy found: the site (e.

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Looking Inside Votive Creatures: Computed Tomography (CT) Scanning of Ancient Egyptian Mummified Animals in Iziko Museums of South Africa: A Preliminary Report
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