New York City, NY
In the ancient burial ground at Saqqara, Egypt, one animal cemetery alone has yielded over four million individual ibis mummies. And the nearby dog cemetery contained over seven million mummies, with countless others found throughout Egypt. This unusual aspect of ancient Egyptian culture and religion—the mummification of animals—has remained largely a mystery. Soulful Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt explores the religious purpose of these mummies, how they were made, and why there are so many.
Drawn from our renowned collection, the exhibition features choice examples from among the many millions of mummies of birds, cats, dogs, snakes, and other animals preserved from at least thirty-one different cemeteries throughout Egypt. Animals were central to the ancient Egyptian worldview. Most animals had connections to a particular deity. After death, mummified animals’ souls could carry a message to a god.
Yet not all animal mummies are what they seem. Scientific investigation of the mummies reveals that the corruption in the animal cemeteries that some contemporaneous texts allege was all too real. CT scans displayed in the exhibition uncover the empty wrappings, double mummies, and misleading packaging among some of the mummies that the priests sold to worshippers.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website
Whether you go or not, the fully illustrated companion book, Soulful Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt , provides a fascinating mix of archaeology, history, and medical imaging, shedding new light on ancient Egyptian animal mummies. It explores the important role granted to animals in Egyptian life — they were seen as equals to humans within creation, endowed with souls. By providing vital background information, backed up with scientific examination of the techniques of mummification, this new book is the first proper, accessible survey of this fascinating side of ancient Egyptian life. It is full of amazing images of mummies, sculptures, and small decorative objects.