Egyptian catacombs of sacred dogs reveal long-held secrets
One of the millions of mummified dogs under the desert at Saqqara. Photo by Dr. Paul T. Nicholson.
In Ancient Egypt, the jackal-headed, dog god, Anubis, was said to judge the souls of men and women when they died, weighing their lives in the balance and deciding upon their future in eternity. No wonder, perhaps, that for thousands of years, the Egyptian people took great care to ensure a good afterlife for the dogs who lived with them.
Now scientists in Egypt have discovered a huge and elaborate labyrinth of tunnels under the desert at Saqqara, where millions of dogs were carefully and painstakingly mummified before being laid to rest.
The Catacombs of Anubis Project is equally painstakingly examining those tunnels. So far, the team is concluding that more than 8 million dogs were buried there.
There’s a dark side to the story, however. It seems that the dogs were not always pets who had reached a natural end to their lives.
“Many animals were killed and mummified when only a matter of hours or days old,” said Dr. Paul Nicholson, of Cardiff University’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion. “These animals were not strictly ‘sacrificial.’ Rather, the dedication of an animal mummy was regarded as a pious act, with the animal acting as intermediary between the donor and the gods.”
The same may also have been true of the cats who were discovered in similar catacombs many years ago – many of whom were clearly kittens.
“Our findings indicate a rather different view of the relationship between people and the animals they worshipped than that normally associated with the ancient Egyptians,” Nicholson said.
It seems that many of the cults that surrounded the temples of sacred animals began with great care toward the animals, but later degenerated into nothing more than sacrificial rituals designed to placate potentially angry deities.
The canine catacombs, which are close to the Temple of Anubis, have been known about since the 19th Century, but have never been explored before now.
What do you say? Trust us, You Wouldn’t Want to be an Egyptian Mummy and “disgusting things you’d rather not know.” Weigh in on the whole mummy thing below or go to our Facebook page and let us know how you feel.
What can you do? Keep your pets away from ancient Egyptians and the dog god Anubis. Or read more here on the Catacombs of Anubis Project.