Ancient Egyptian Sacred Ibis Mummies: Evolutionary Mitogenomics Resolves the History of Ancient Farming
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Animal mummies were extremely important to the people of ancient Egypt. The extraordinary number of different animal species that were mummified is evidence of this importance. The vast majority of these mummies served as ritual offerings by pilgrims to please the gods. These are known as “votive offerings”, and are thought to have flourished from the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty (664-525 BC) to the Graeco-Roman Period (30 BC–300 AD). Of these, none are found in quantities as great as the Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) that were offered to the God of Wisdom and Writing, Thoth. It is estimated that 4 million Sacred Ibis mummies were deposited in dedicated catacombs throughout Egypt, with approximately 10,000 mummies interred each year. Such massive numbers suggest that ancient Egyptians perhaps kept and reared Ibis on an industrial-scale. However, there is limited evidence in ancient writings that support this suggestion. Sacred Ibis were once prevalent in Egypt but were driven to extinction as early as the mid 1800's. Mummified Sacred Ibis specimens were collected from the main Sacred Ibis catacombs at Saqqara, Tuna el Gebel, Abydos and Thebes, as well as other mummified samples collected from worldwide museums. The aim of this research was to determine if there was evidence that Sacred Ibises were farmed for mummification purposes. If so, is there evidence for the existence of large central farm(s) from which mummies were distributed to the different catacombs by pilgrims? Alternatively, Sacred Ibises may have been reared in smaller enclosures adjacent to each of the main Thoth worshipping temples. Another possibility is that locals and / or priests may have caught wild Sacred Ibises each year from migrating populations? Alternatively, did the mummification industry source Sacred Ibis from a mix of both farmed and wild Sacred Ibises in order to meet the extraordinary demand?
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Griffith School of Environment
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Mummified sacred ibis specimens