8 million dogs mummified in Saqqara

The Daily Mail has this rather gruesome Egyptology story:

A labyrinth of sacred tunnels packed with the mummified remains of millions of dogs has been excavated under the Egyptian desert.

The catacombs are estimated to contain the remains up to eight million dogs, many of which would have been offered to the gods when they were just hours old.

Others would have been treated as living representatives of the dog or jackal-headed god Anubis and would have lived out their lives in the nearby temple before being preserved and laid to rest in the network of tunnels.

The fascinating details come from Cardiff University scientists, who along with Egyptian colleagues are the first to examine the structure and contents of the complex underground network built 2,500 years ago under the Saqqara desert.

The catacomb, which lies ten to 12metres underground, consists of a long central corridor and a series of smaller passages that branch off it.

Sampling of small areas and bone examination of their contents suggest that the entire network is home to eight million dogs, as well as a handful of cats and jackals.

Some of the dogs were killed and mummified just days or even hours after birth.

With the need to mummify so many animals, perhaps thousands per year, it is likely the animals were bred in puppy farms dotted around the ancient capital of Memphis.

Pilgrims, who were not necessarily particularly well-off, bought the dogs, then paid for them to be mummified, in the hope of currying favour with the canine-headed god, Anubis.

As one of the most important gods of the dead, Anubis was particularly worth pleasing.

Dr Paul Nicholson, of Cardiff University’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion, said: ‘These animals were not strictly “sacrificial”.

‘Rather, the dedication of an animal mummy was regarded as a pious act, with the animal acting as an intermediary between the donor and the gods.’

Read more here.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.