June 10, 2014

Animal Mummies - A Fascinating Exhibit

Recently a quorum of my sisters (a bunch were there but not all... I have many) and I went to see the Soulful Animals: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt exhibit at the Bowers Museum in Orange County, CA. It was fascinating! I wanted to share some of the history and some pics I took at the exhibit. (Pics were allowed as long as you didn't use a flash.)

The exhibit was based on some of the millions of animal mummies found at 31 cemeteries throughout Egypt. 
Shrew mummy
According to the exhibit, there were various reasons an animal might be mummified:
  • Sometimes - although rarely - mummies of pets were buried with their owners (the best-known examples are from within the royal families)
  • Game or farm animals were sometimes mummified as food offerings for the deceased and were included in tombs.
  • Certain sacred animals (for example, they would raise a bull who was considered a god incarnate) would be mummified at death and given a royal burial
  • But the most common animal mummies were votive: animals prepared for burial so that their souls would be set free to deliver messages to the gods.

To me, the really fascinating thing about that is that it shows the Egyptians thought animals had souls. Meanwhile, the exhibit said the "Hebrew, Greek, Roman and early Christian writings condemned and ridiculed the Egyptian view of animals." Pfffhtthh to that. (I'm so scholarly...)
Baby crocodile mummy
The exhibit said animals that represented certain gods (for example, crocodiles represented the god Sobek, a god of the Nile who brought fertility to the land) would be raised by priests in and around temples built for the gods. Then folks would come along, buy a crocodile mummy and offer up their message for the gods. In the case of the crocs, it said they would, er, dispatch the crocs when they were little, since it's obviously a lot easier to deal with the babies and mummify them over the full-grown variety.

Some of the mummies were also in wooden or bronze coffins, like this shrew coffin. (Isn't it cool?) Probably the richer you were, the more elaborate thing you would buy - cuz you wanted to make sure your message got received!
Wooden shrew coffin
There were also a couple of wooden cat coffins, one with gold still visible, showing that cats were “prized at all social levels in ancient Egypt.” Cats were buried in human cemeteries as far back as 4000-3000 BCE, suggesting “cats were domesticated from very early times.” The exhibit said the DNA of the mummified cats traces to today's domesticated house cat. (Of course it does, since cats KNOW they are still prized today.)
Top: wooden cat coffin, Bottom: cat mummy & mummy X-ray

The animals that were mummified were all ones that had a relationship with one or more deities, such as dogs and the god Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the underworld who guided and protected the spirits of the dead.
Dog mummies, note the intricate folding on the top mummy

The mummies were believed to act as messengers from the Egyptians to the gods, and they would pray for pretty much the same things folks do today... long life, better health, better working conditions, etc.
Different views of an ibis mummy and X-ray
This next item was one of my favorite things (after that intricately folded dog mummy above...) It's a “stela” (a "commemorative inscription or relief design, often serving as a gravestone") from the tomb of an Egyptian official and his wife. The married couples son had it made for them, and they are shown with the image of their pet dog under their chair. (He's a cutie!) According to the exhibit, this was a more common way of memorializing the family pet than mummification.
A married couple with their pet dog

Yeah, I think I'd rather have the family pet memorialized with an engraving, rather than as a mummy. 

But, hey - those ancient Egyptians weren't so different from us. They loved their cats and their dogs. (Look at the fancy little collar the dog in that stela is wearing!)

Thanks to BlogPaws for hosting Wordless Wednesday. Sorry I was so wordy, but I thought it was a super interesting exhibit!


22 comments:

  1. Wow - post of the Blog Hop for me!! This is so cool to see,

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  2. It's interesting and Golden Thanks for sharing. Happy Wednesday. Golden Woofs

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  3. That exhibit sounds neat. Is it a traveling one? That dog is pretty cute!

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    1. It was on loan from a Brooklyn museum to the OC museum so it might be traveling, but I'm not sure. Definitely worth seeing!

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  4. Definitely very interesting! I am glad you were wordy!

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  5. Fascinating! Love the stela :-)

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  6. When I taught Ancient Egypt to 4th graders the role of animals in the culture was one of the things that always interested them. One of the local musuems had an animal mummy along with the human variety and it was always the highlight of our visit.

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    1. Oh, I bet the kids loved that! How fun to take them to see that stuff.

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  7. That is a fascinating topic. The Ancient Egyptians sure valued their animals as we understand that mummification was not only time consuming but expensive. It is nice to see a culture that held animals in such high regard. Have a wonderful Wednesday.
    Best wishes Molly

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  8. Very cool! I bet that was so interesting to see.

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  9. It always fascinates me how little cats have changed through the thousands of years in so many different places. Dogs, on the other hand, have many breeds that don't look much like their ancestor, the wolf. It's like the ancient cat had achieved perfection and there was no room for improvement

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    1. Hmmm. Or maybe the ancient folks (like folks today) realized there was no sense trying to change a cat's ways, so they just left well enough alone. :)

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  10. Very interesting! Mom says she has been to a similar exhibit where they definitely worshipped cats! Love Dolly

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  11. This was really interesting. You know, I never knew they mummified any animals other than cats and dogs. Learn something knew every day!

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  12. This really is so interesting! Thanks for sharing it. I'm always amazed by the ancient Egyptian's abilities and all of the cool things they created.

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  13. This kind of weird...but also kind of fun.

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  14. I would love to be able to visit that exhibit! How cool and fascinating!

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  15. That is a cool exhibit, and I would love to see it!

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  16. Very interesting. I kind of feel sorry for the animals that were basically sacrificed to bring a message though.

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    1. Yeah, I thought about that too. There was no info on how the animals were treated at the exhibit - but I would think that since folks believed the animals were related/representative of the gods, that they must have treated them humanely. I hope!

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  17. That was definitely very interesting, thanks for sharing it! I have always loved history, and find the ancient Egyptians especially fascinating....now I know why, it must be because of how they loved their animals! I love the collar on the dog.

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