The word "mummy" might bring to mind a human form, but mummification in ancient Egypt was not restricted to people. Archaeologists have discovered the mummified remains of vast numbers of animals. Some ancient Egyptians even had their pets mummified for purposes of afterlife companionship.
If an ancient Egyptian was particularly fond of his pet, he could opt to have the animal mummified. Once the owner passed away, the mummified animal's body could then be kept alongside his own. Ancient Egyptians kept a variety of animals as pets, famously felines. Along with cats, dogs, geese and monkeys were typical household pets.
Some ancient Egyptians mummified animals out of familial love, while others did so because they viewed them as symbolic of certain gods and goddesses. The ancient Egyptians held many animals in esteem. They connected them to positive traits, and often even believed that they possessed godly strength. They thought that crocodiles were mighty, for example. Cats were a major source of reverence in ancient Egypt: They were connected to beneficial characteristics including nimbleness, poise and maternal care. Ancient Egyptians frequently donated mummified animals to temples because of their sacred qualities. The animals were thought to be gifts to the gods. Designated animal graveyards were common sights on temple grounds.
Some ancient Egyptian animals were buried as precious pets, some were buried as sacred beings and others were even buried as food supplies for the dead people. These mummified animals were referred to as "victual mummies." Birds commonly served as victual mummies. Victual mummies were especially prevalent in royal tombs.
Types of Frequently Mummified Animals
Diverse mummified animals have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, and for different purposes. Cats and dogs were both often mummified as pets and sacred animals. Ducks, fish and monkeys have all been found buried at temples, as sacred creatures. Other mummified animals that have been uncovered include rams, bulls, baboons, gazelles and lizards. The ancient Egyptians cared for their cats so much they often provided them with victual mummies of their own -- specifically rodents such as rats and mice. The cats were thought to need food for their trips down to the underworld.
- British Museum: Animal Mummies
- Pitt Rivers Museum: Animals and Belief
- Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt; John H. Taylor
- Ancient Egypt; Meredith Costain
- Autour de la Géographie Orientale, et au-delà; Laurence Denooz and Xavier Luffin
- The Crafts and Culture of the Ancient Egyptians; Joann Jovinelly and Jason Netelkos
- Looking at Animals in Human History; Linda Kalof
- Ancient Egypt; Andrew Langley
- Ancient Egypt; Leon Ashworth