Monday, April 15, 2013

Dog mummies

Some of my readers seem to be put off by pictures of dead dogs, whether put aside for consumption or preserved in Pompeii, so to you I apologize. But the rest of you please follow as I lead you into the Dog Catacombs. Dogs, cats, and other creatures have been mummified accidentally or deliberately in other cultures, but the ancient Egyptians are best known for their shrines to deities filled with preserved animal offerings. In a labyrinth of chambers and passages underneath the ancient royal burial ground of Saqqara, between the 6th and 1st centuries B.C.E., they deposited millions of mummified puppies as offerings to Anubis, their jackal-headed god of the dead (VIDEO HERE). The Dog Catacombs were first documented in 1897 by French Egyptologist Jacques De Morgan, but were never fully studied. The task, funded by National Geographic, was taken on in 2009 by an excavation team led by Salima Ikram of The American University in Cairo and a research team led by Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University. Iran is an expert on mummification with a specialization in archaeozoology, the study of animal mummies. She hopes to be able to identify the breeds of the estimated 8 million canids piled over 3' (1m) high in the tunnels, but also wants to put the practice within the context of ancient Egyptian spirituality: “We are trying to understand how this fits religiously with the cult of Anubis, to whom the catacomb is dedicated....[I]n some churches people light a candle, and their prayer is taken directly up to God in that smoke. In the same way, a mummified dog's spirit would carry a person's prayer to the afterlife."


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