Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ibis bellies

The ancient Egyptians didn't eat 'em like Audubon, they fed 'em! Ibises were among the animals that were sacrificed and mummified as offerings to the gods. Sacred to Thoth, the ibis mummies were cached in temples including Tuna el-Gebel, where more than 4 million of them have been found. Recently, a research team led by Andrew Wade of the University of Western Ontario examined a sacred ibis mummy from the Peabody Museum at Yale University, a mummified ibis hatchling from the Redpath Museum at McGill University, and an unwrapped ibis recently discovered by researchers from New York University. The unwrapped bird had snails in its beak, and a CT scan (above) revealed that snails had been inserted into the wrapped birds via an incision. The find indicates that the sacrificial ibises were fed posthumous meals (also including grain and fish) to sustain them on their final journeys as messengers to the gods. Wade, whose research is soon to be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, acknowledges that animal mummies have been found with food placed next to them—little bowls of milk next to cat mummies and dates near mummified monkeys, but this is the 1st time archaeologists have seen food being returned into the mummy. He explains, “That the birds received treatment for their own continued provision in the afterlife suggests that the afterlife welfare of the birds was important to the priests performing the embalming ritual on them. Certainly, in this sense, there appears to be some degree of equality between humans and animals in death. If that is the case, then the birds may have been deserving of a greater respect in life.” As with humans, there were varying levels of mummification. Some of the ibises were simply dipped in resin before being wrapped, but others - like these - had their organs removed and their gizzards replaced after being packed with food for the afterlife.

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