Skip Navigation

We are open today from 11 am to 6 pm.

Soulful Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt

September 29, 2017–January 21, 2018

Baboon Appliqué from an Animal Mummy. Possibly from Saqqara, Egypt. Ptolemaic Period, 305–30 B.C.E. Linen, 51/2 x 23/8 in. (14.2 x 5.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum; Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.272E. (Photo: Gavin Ashworth, Brooklyn Museum)

ASK Brooklyn Museum Bloomberg Philanthropies

Here are some questions visitors asked us during their visit to this exhibition.

On your next visit, use our app to ask your own questions, get info, and share insights by texting with our team of knowledgeable and friendly experts.

Can you give us a simple explanation of carbon dating? 
Carbon dating, or C14 dating, analyzes a particular isotope of carbon which decays at a very predictable rate. By measuring how much has decayed in contrast to how much is still left, scientists can estimate how long ago something (or someone) died.
Carbon dating can only be conducted on organic material (plants, animals, people).
In terms of dating the animal mummies, which material is used?
The animal mummies in this exhibition that have been dated: scientists analyzed the remains of the animal itself and the linen that the mummies are wrapped in.
Linen is made from plant material so the same analysis can be performed.
Thanks so much.
You're welcome!
Why is his tail not straight?
That's a great question. This sculpture was designed to sit on top of coffin, to "guard" the body of the dead.
The tail faces downward to "hug" the coffin protectively. 
Is the hinge at the base of the tail utilitarian?
I believe that is a joint where the tail is attached to the body, as they were made separately.
Wood was very rare and expensive in Egypt (most was imported) so large sculptures such as this had to be made in multiple pieces.
Ah cool.
Can you tell me more about this baboon appliqué?
This applique likely would have adorned a mummy and served to identify it as containing a baboon. Monkey mummies appear in almost every necropolis of the Ptolemaic Period. They enjoyed popularity among Egyptian elite. Tomb scenes depicting monkeys under people's chairs suggest they had a role as pets. These images may also represent sexuality and suggest that monkeys contributed to a human's rebirth in the afterlife.
Is this a dog mummy?
This ceramic coffin belonged to an Ibis, a type of bird that ancient Egyptians associated with the god of wisdom, Thoth.
Would Egyptians kill animals when the needed to send messages to the gods?
It depends on the animal, but yes. Priests raised large groups of animals at temples specifically for the animal mummy industry. That said, this only worked for animals that could be easily bred in captivity, like a rodent or an ibis.
Falcons, associated with the falcon headed god of kingship Horus, are solitary, and so were trickier to find. Some of them may have been killed, but others very likely died of natural causes and were found and made into mummies.
Are the animals only mummified after natural death or were they any of them sacrificed?
Some animals were mummified after dying of natural causes, but many were indeed "dispatched." The demand for animal mummies were quite high.
Animals were kept at temple precincts in large numbers in order to ultimately be mummified. At some temples though, instead of keeping a flock of ibises, they would operate a feeding ground for wild ibises to come by. This is where you would get more of the "partial" mummies that just contain feathers that had been collected, for example.
I am seeing reference to items found in animal cemeteries, or species-specific cemeteries, like dog or cat cemetery, others found in human cemeteries. Is there anything that explains why a dead animal would be buried in one type cemetery rather than another?
Yes, the votive animal mummies were typically organized in species-specific cemeteries that were associated with temple complexes and/or larger cemeteries. This was chiefly because the different animals were associated with different deities. If you wanted to send a message to Thoth, for example, you would donate an ibis or a baboon; to Bastet, a cat, et cetera.
An animal being buried in a human cemetery would suggest that the animal was a beloved pet rather than a votive offering.
What did the ibis symbolize something that made them so popular?
Their long beak resembled the reed pens used by scribes, which is how they came to be associated with the god Thoth.
Tell me more.
These cat coffins added value to the mummified cats, that were wrapped in linen and placed inside. These animal mummies were seen as messengers to the gods. Some animals were associated with specific gods and when they died, were mummified, and buried, their souls would travel to the realm of the gods with the ability to convey a request on behalf of the living human. Cats like these were usually an offering to Bastet.
Adding elaborate wooden or bronze coffins, gold gilding, and decoration could make the god you were sending a message to, more inclined to grant your request.
What was the significance of the Ibis?
The ibis is associated with Thoth, the god of wisdom. The birds long, curving beak resembles the reed used by scribes to write.
The Egyptians believed that animals had souls and that a mummified ibis could carry messages to Thoth. We know that people asked for things like help with family, work, etc. Similar to things we would want help with today!
Thank you.
Why is there a standing up mummy on the 4th floor?
It sounds like you're asking about Hor. The curators included him in the Soulful Creatures exhibition to show the way that humans were mummified next to the animals so you can compare. And, you can see all the animal-headed gods that were included on his cartonnage.
If a priest puts a shrew in your ibis mummy does Thoth still get the message?
The priest sure wants you to think so!
The answer, according to actual Egyptian beliefs, is maybe. The soul of the mummified shrew would go to live in the realm of the gods where Thoth would also be. It wouldn't be as direct a line as sending an ibis though.
Tell me more.
Because oryxes lived in the desert and the Egyptians were unsuccessful at domesticating them, they were associated with chaos and seen as a negative force. Here, it is shown bound. A symbolic way to exert control over them, thus containing their negative associations.
This object is actually hollowed out slightly in the back and was designed as a dish to offer food for the deceased, which they needed to sustain themselves in the afterlife.
Why did they mummify animals in ancient Egypt? 
The ancient Egyptians mummified animals for the same reason they mummified people, kind of. Preserving the body was essential for successfully traveling to the afterlife. Ancient Egyptians wanted the animals to travel to the afterlife so they could bring prayers with them and deliver them directly to the gods.
Why did they mummify animals?
The Egyptians believed that animals had souls and, if they were properly mummified, could carry messages to the gods.
So if you wanted to send a message to the god Anubis, you would go to a temple that specialized in mummifying dogs and would buy a dog mummy from a priest. The priest would recite spells and place the mummy in a special dog cemetery.
One dog cemetery had over 7 million mummies in it! Apparently, ancient Egyptians had a lot to say to Anubis! Some were asking for help with health, work, etc. Very similar to prayers today.
How do you know which animal to mummify for a god?
Each animal was associated with a specific god. For example, the funerary god, Anubis, was associated with jackals that roamed the cemeteries; the wisdom god, Thoth, was associated with ibises who appear very discerning in their hunting practices.
Is that really a mongoose and a king? Seems strange that the mongoose would be so big compared to the king.
The sculpture is definitely of a king and a mongoose! Their size difference is actually because the mongoose represents a god, the god Atum in this case, which, as you can imagine, would be larger than a King! You'll see this kind of size difference in ancient art pretty often actually. It is something called hierarchical scale, where the being with the most power (the highest figure in the hierarchy) is drawn or sculpted larger than everyone else.
And the king seems to be depicted as a boy.
I see what you mean, I think that has a lot to do with his small size and the way that this statuette isn't very detailed.
Thanks so much for the fun interaction and information!
The exhibit implies that the Egyptians valued animals more than in Judeo Christian philosophy. Can you tell me a little bit about how that manifested in everyday life?
Animals were often associated with specific deities. For instance, ibises were associated with the god Thoth, who often appeared as an Ibis headed man, falcolns with the falcon-headed god Horus, and so on. Because gods often took on animal forms, the animals were seen as capable of carrying prayers to these gods, and seen as creatures with their own souls. That said, Egyptians still had pets and killed animals for food and to donate to the gods.
The main distinction was in that Judeo-Christian belief animals are not generally viewed as having souls, whereas animals were viewed as having souls in ancient Egypt. A good example would be the Apis bull, a manifestation of Ptah, a creator god associated with the city of Memphis. When the Apis Bull died, he was given a burial like that of a human king.
Fascinating, thank you
Why is Anubis’s tail so long? It looks like a cat’s tail!
That's true it is long! It was likely stylistic. This kind of sculpture would have been placed on persons sarcophagus much like this platform, watching over the deceased and protecting their spirit.
Interesting! Thanks
Why would they choose a specific animal? Would the owners be rich or royal?
The choice of the ibis would have been motivated by the belief that the ibis was a representative of the god Thoth. Donating a mummified ibis was thought to be a way to send prayers to Thoth, the god of wisdom. A coffin like this would have indeed been quite pricey. The person who bought it was not necessarily royal, but would have been rich.
What mummified animal is this?
It is not an animal but rather a combination of grain, wax, and dirt wrapped in linen and placed in a coffin decorated with images of the falcon god Sokar-Osiris.
You may have noticed that the title of the work is "Corn Mummy." the word corn here is a carryover from the German language where corn means all grain, not just maize.
Mummies like these were created in connection with annual festivals which linked Osiris to the fertility of the earth! sprouting grain symbolized renewal, rejuvenation, and the cycle of life and death.
Thank you
Why did some animal shaped coffins have different animals inside?
There could be a couple reasons. Falcon-shaped coffins could have a shrew inside as an offering of food to a falcon-god like Horus. Separately a shrew could be a stand in for a mongoose or ichneumon, like a cat can stand for a lion.
There is so much decoration on this!
The cartonnage of Hor is elaborately decorated, the designs aimed at helping him have a successful journey into the afterlife.  On his cartonnage we see scenes including his own funeral. You can see him in the center of the painting, mummified and laying on a bed!
Several deities also appear in the painting, including the mummiform King of the Afterlife, Osiris, and, next to Osiris, the four sons of Horus. The four sons of Horus were also associated with canopic jars, guarding and preserving the organs of the deceased.
Is Osiris the owl?
Kind of, yes! This is actually a falcon and it does indeed represent the god Osiris!
The inscription on the lower part of the coffin is actually a prayer to Osiris himself.
Tell me more about the beautiful art of wrapping. So detailed and patterned. Lovely!
Often the type of wrapping was partially dictated by the animal underneath, helping to mimmic the shape when bundled. At other times, elaborate wrappings compensated for the mummy inside, which may not have been the whole or desired animal. We have a wrapping that looks like a bull where this is very clearly the case. Wrapping styles also varied based on time period.
The mummy you're looking at, meanwhile, is wrapped in a style associated with the Roman Period from 30 B.C.E–395 C.E.
The various patterns of the linen, diamond or coffered boxes is very striking indicating great attention to detail and artistic vision.
Yes, it is incredible to think of the care that went into these objects that would be seen by so few.
I also find it fascinating that the architectural pattern of coffering was transferred to mummies. It is just one example of the melding of Egyptian and Roman aesthetics.
This totally looks like Mogli and Baloo from jungle book!
Awww. I guess when you make a mongoose so much bigger than a human, it does look a lot like a bear!
Despite his tiny size, the human here is actually a king. The ichneumon is so much larger because it represents one form of the god Atum. The sculpture is using what is called hierarchical scale to show us who is the most powerful!
What does this headpiece represent?
That is the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, which was a common headdress for the pharaoh as the unifier of the two lands. The falcon was often associated with the king as the god of kingship, Horus. As a bird, he could be a symbol of the king as a link between the heavens and earth.
I love this as the first piece in the exhibition. 
This sculpture of Anubis in the form of a jackal guards the entrance to Soulful Creatures the way that he might guard the entrance to a tomb.
Anubis was the patron deity of embalmers and mummification. He was also considered a protector of the dead. His jackal or dog form stems from real dogs that roam the desert edge where the Egyptians buried their dead.
Were animals mummified alive?
I think you'll be relieved to hear that animals were not mummified alive! Some were indeed killed specifically to be made into mummies, but I don't think it's really possible to mummify a creature alive.
What does it actually say?
The inscription reads: Hail, Sokar-Osiris, Greetings Re-Hor-Akhty and Khepri who created himself. How beautiful is your rising on the horizon when you illuminate the two lands with your rays! (All) the gods rejoice when they see Horus, King of The Sky, the Wnwt-cobra on your head, the Crown of Upper Egypt and the Crown of Lower Egypt on your brow. They have made their seat, while Thoth abides on the prow (of the sun boat.) Thoth abides in order to see the beauty of this, your image. I have come before you and I am with you.
The animal mummies are so fascinating! I was surprised to learn that the more elaborate the mummy's wrappings are, the less likely it is that there is a complete animal inside.
Oh wow, that is interesting. Like this for example?
This mummy contains a complete ibis. You can compare it to the extremely elaborate (and beautiful!) ibis mummy in the last room which has a resin mask and headdress, but only contains feathers!
It appears that there may have been some corrupt priests working in the temples that sold these mummies to the public.
Wow how rude! Corruption.
Sorry, what does votive mean?
Votive is like a donation especially in a ritual context. A votive can also be a stand-in for a worshipper.
Tell me about the ibis statue.
It's one of our star objects! It is obviously a very elaborate example of an ibis coffin. The gold body of this statue is where the body of the actual bird's mummy would be placed. As you may have read in the label, the silver head and feet were likely added later, but they do look like ancient bronze versions that did exist. Scientific testing suggests that the silver comes from the Americas.
In ancient Egypt, the ibis was sacred to the god Thoth who was the god of wisdom as well as medicine and magic. He was also said to know the future. He was a very popular god to appeal to in uncertain times.
Why were ibises such common mummy sacrifices?
Ibises were so common because Egyptians, especially during the time period represented, wanted to send a lot of messages to the god Thoth with whom the ibis was associated.
He was the god of wisdom and "the Librarian of the Sky," which also meant that he knew the future and could provide guidance. Much of what you see in Soulful Creatures comes from an uncertain time in Egyptian history when they were frequently under foreign rule.
My friend wants to know why they mummified in the first place? What purpose does it serve?
Preservation of the body was important in particular because your soul needed a place to come back and rest. A mummified body would serve that function. The first mummification, according to the religion, was that of the god Osiris, who generally appears in clothes and poses that are described as "mummiform," meaning he looks like a mummy.
Come back to this world or the world of the afterlife?
It's not that they believed the body would re-animate, but that the body served as a place for the soul to take a nap. The ancient Egyptians believed that the kingdom of afterlife existed far to the west.
Can modern historians read hieroglyphs?
Yes they can! In fact, by reading the hieroglyphs is how curators know that this stela was donated by a man named Hori.
Cool! Thank you!
You're welcome! The text at the top, names Hori and Amun-Re of Amara West (a site in modern Sudan). The body of the text is like a prayer to the god on behalf of Hori.
Were the cats dead prior to mummification or sacrificed for entrance into the afterlife?
The simple answer is, it depends. Many cats and other animals were sacrificed in order to send their souls to the afterlife. This likely represents a larger proportion of cat mummies.
There is also evidence that pet cats were mummified after having died of natural causes.
What role did cats play in ancient Egypt?
Both domesticated and wild cats lived amongst the ancient Egyptians. Cats were associated with good night vision and with catching mice and snakes, traits that led to association with certain gods.
Cats were also associated with lions, and both animals were identified for their motherly instincts. For instance, the protective mother goddess Bastet was often depicted as a cat or with the head of a cat.
There were several lion-headed or lioness goddesses as well, including Wadjet, Mut, Shesemtet, Pakhet, and Tefnut.
Because of cats' mythological associations, cat fur, feces, and fat was used in medicine or in magic, while small cats were also used as symbols of fertility and sexuality. They had a lot of roles and associations in Ancient Egypt!
We're the linen strips soaked with something that would make them adhere?
Yes, the linen was soaked with a type of natural resin.
Were the cats sacrificed? Or did they just die?
Both. Most cats that were mummified to be offered to Bastet and other feline deities were sacrificed for the occasion. Some cats, especially family pets, would have been mummified after they died of some other cause.
What deity were dog mummies associated with?
Dog mummies were associated with the jackal headed god and inventor of embalming, Anubis. They were also associated with Wepwawet among members of certain cults. Wepwawet was believed to be protector and guide to the deceased.
Sometimes jackal-shaped Anubis statues were even put on top of a coffin or sarcophagus to guard the mummy.
Tell me more.
This is a wooden coffin with a shrew figurine on top. Shrews were associated with the sun god. Because of their night vision and talent at killing snakes , they aided the sun god in his battle against the evil serpent Apep, who threatened to throw the world into disorder.
Are the animal mummies wrapped in an additional netting? Or is that original
Yes, the mummies are all in a very fine modern netting used for conservation purposes. Good eye!
Oh wow, that’s cool!
We’re any of these found before x-rays existed?
Many of these mummies were found before x-rays existed, yes. With new x-ray technologies we can learn more and more about them!
So they physically opened them up, at first?
In the past, some mummies were opened, yes. Many were left in tact, though and we are only now able to see inside of them with modern imaging technologies.
Thanks! You guys are always so great about answering my million questions.
Who is represented in this sculpture?
The figure on the left (the tiny human) is meant to represent a king. The figure on the right is called an ichneumon, which is an African mongoose. The mongoose represented a god and the king was making an offering to him.
Tell me more.
You're looking at one of the faces of the Statue of Serapis. Serapis is  be a composite deity primarily of the Greek god Zeus and the Egyptian god Osiris.
This composite deity was created during the Ptolemaic (Greek) rule of Egypt. The idea was that a composite god would unite the Greek and Egyptian people! It has been suggested that this head shows either a younger and an older face or a man and a woman. Either way, it clearly tells viewers that the god is multifaceted.
What would this be used for?
This is a coffin for an ibis mummy. The ibis was associated with Thoth, the god of wisdom and the mummified bird was believed to carry prayers to the god.
You might be interested to know that the metal legs of this ibis coffin were likely made in the late 19th, early 20th century. They were based on ancient models.
What did baboons represent?
Because baboons raise their arms every morning to warm their bodies with the light of the sun, and they shout at dawn as if to greet the sun, they are associated with the sun god, Re. They were also associated with Thoth, the god of wisdom, because they were understood as very intelligent animals. Their sometimes aggressive nature led them to be seen as guardians as well.
What was this cat coffin used for? It’s too small for a cat mummy, no?
You're absolutely right, that coffin is definitely too small for a full cat. Likely parts of the animal would have been included in this coffin instead of an entire cat. You can see the small portion in the side of the coffin where it opens.
Tell me more.
This dog mummy was probably offered with a message for the god Anubis or Wepwawet.
Anubis was the jackal god who oversaw mummification, guarded burials, and helped to judge the dead. Wepwawet is a guardian of travel, especially during the journey to the afterlife. His name means "Opener of Ways."
Once donated, the ancient Egyptians believed the souls of mummies would travel to the realm of the gods and communicate a message or plea to the deity they were associated with.
Thank you!
Were these coffins covered with plaster and then painted over that?
Yes! This particular coffin was carved with wood and then covered with gesso and painted.
What is gesso?
Gesso is a plaster-like, water based substance that is used to prepare surfaces for paint. After the sculpture was covered with gesso, the paint could be added over the top. There are other cat mummies and coffins in the exhibition that were decorated in slightly different ways, for instance with gold instead of pigment.
While the chemicals are probably slightly different, painters today still use gesso to prepare canvases and other surfaces for paintings!
What does the gesso do exactly?
It is white, so it creates an evenly colored surface to receive paint, adds a smooth surface that accepts pigment more reliably than whatever material is underneath,and it protects materials like wood and fabric so the work lasts longer. Generally gesso is made of some sort of chalk or gypsum and a binder (some sort of glue), and can be diluted with water.
If you've ever painted a wall, you might know you have to prime the wall with a white primer paint first. Gesso works very much the same way.
Why are the legs broken off?
Hippos are one of the most dangerous creatures in Egypt. They hide in the water and can rise up and capsize a boat suddenly. They are also violently protective of their young.
Ancient Egyptians would break the legs of a hippo sculpture and place it in the tomb, in order to remove the threat of dangerous and chaotic animals in the afterlife!
Why is the ibis so special?
The ibis was associated with the god Thoth, who was the god of wisdom and knowledge. Thoth would often take the form of an ibis-headed man.
Ibises bred at the temple in Saqqara to eventually be mummified were even referred to as "The Ibis, The God and the Soul of Thoth."
Ibis mummies could be donated to Thoth by Egyptians hoping for guidance from the deity. This, as I'm sure you can see, is a particularly elaborate ibis coffin. It was a high quality donation to the god!
Tell me more.
Cats were domesticated considerably later than dogs. The cat mummies included in our collection include both wild and domesticated breeds, according to a doctor of veterinary medicine that examined x-rays of the mummies in 2009.
I love the way that the ancient artist described the cat's fur!
Why would Egyptians mummified a shrew?
Scholars believe that shrew mummies were used to stand in for ichneumon (mongoose) mummies later in Egyptian history. Ichneumon were respected as snake killers and animals associated with both Horus and Atum. Shrews were venerated for having good eyesight in both light and darkness.
Shrew and mongoose mummies were buried with falcon mummies to protect the falcon (representing the god Horus) from the snake god Apep at night!
Awesome thanks
Tell me more.
This animal mummy actually only contains a single bone, that is possibly but not definitely from a bull. The elaborate shape of the wrapping was done in order to compensate for the lack of real animal remains.
Bulls and cows in ancient Egypt were commonly used for food and as beasts of burden, but their strength and fertility also became associated with royal power.
Is the dog small, shrunk, or just part of a dog?
The mummification process dries out the body so it does get a lot smaller. The linen is wrapped very tightly as well contributing to the small size of this mummy.
Why did they mummify the dog?
The ancient Egyptians mummified animals who embodied characteristics of certain gods in the hopes that when they were mummified and buried, that their souls would would travel to the realm of the gods and deliver a message for them.
These messages were written on papyrus and included requests for help with work, court, sickness or other personal problems.
The dog was normally associated with two deities, Anubis and Wepwawet. Anubis was the guardian of the mummification and burials. Because dogs lived in the desert, they were often seen roaming around cemeteries and became seen as protector's of the deceased, like Anubis!
That's really cool!!
That was my grandson. Thank you.
What are the eyes made of and what is “gesso”?
The eyes may have been inlaid with glass or stone that is no longer present. Gesso is similar to plaster and is used to smooth out surfaces to paint on. In the case of this coffin, the whole wooden surface is covered in gesso and that is what is painted.
What did they make these wraps from?
Mummy wrappings were made from linen in ancient Egypt. In fact, most textile-needs were fulfilled by linen, which is made from fibers of the flax plant.
Thank you!
You're welcome! If you see images of ancient Egyptians wearing white garments (which are abundant) those would have been linen as well!
Any idea what this says?  Or what it may be about?
The text is a group of spells protect against attacks from animals, especially venomous ones (like the scorpions and snakes you see Horus holding on the front).
I have a complete translation, If you like. It is quite long. A few highlights are:
Hail to you bull, born of the divine cow! Hail to you Horus, come forth from Osiris, born of Isis, the goddess! I have pronounced your name...I have recited your incantations, I have conjured with your spells which you created.
Who are the people here?
This closeup of the Cartonnage of Hor shows us several ancient Egyptian deities and demons. Here you can see the center of the cartonnage's chest is covered by a Ta-wer symbol, a ceremonial standard of the town of Abydos. The symbol is flanked by two winged cobra deities, each wearing one of the crowns of either Lower or Upper Egypt, indicating that they are the goddesses of Lower and Upper Egypt, Wadjet and Nekhbet.
Next to the cobra headed deities on either side is a version of the mummiform King of the Afterlife, Osiris. Next to each Osiris stands two of the four sons of Horus, the figures also found on canopic jars to guard organs.
What is inside this?
A mummy made of grain, wax, and earth! "Corn" mummies like these were made during annual rituals to honor the god Osiris and promote resurrection and renewal, especially as it was related to crops.
So, there’s no corpse inside?
Not in this one, no. Because part of its function was related to promoting agricultural fertility it is filled with mostly earth and grains. 
That’s so cool, thanks!
Most adorable god ever!!!
Agreed! He would have been placed on top of a coffin, to help watch over the soul of the dead. I love how his posture is very alert!
What kind of wood is this?
Great question. I don't have the wood type identified in my notes, but my guess would be cedar. Wood was a luxury project in ancient Egypt as it had to be imported. Cedar would have come from Lebanon.
What Egyptian god is the shrew is supposed to be associated with?
Shrews were  used to stand in for the ichneumon, the African mongoose. The ichneumon was associated with Horus and the god Atum, and was worshipped for it's ability to see in the dark and ability to kill snakes.
You might have seen a small statue of a king and (much larger) Ichneumon elsewhere in the exhibition!
Interesting! I knew the ichneumon was variously worshipped, also as the goddess Mafdet, but I didn't know the shrew could be a possible stand-in for it.
Isn't it fascinating?
It really is!
Tell me more about this cat and mouse.
The sketch comes from a town known today as Deir el-Medina which was, in ancient times, the village of the tomb builders in Thebes. The comedic scene may illustrate a fable or may just be something fun an artist drew in his spare time.
Did we get our tradition of tombstones from the Egyptians?
As to the tradition of tombstones, marking the grave of the deceased with inscribed stone was a common practice in many different cultures that influenced our own modern western traditions. It is unlikely the practice comes solely from the Egyptians.
Why is this cat coffin so small?
This coffin likely only contained a partial cat mummy, parts that symbolically represented the whole.
Cats were one of the types of animals that were both beloved pets and sacred to the gods. They symbolized both domestic, maternal qualities and could stand in for the powerful lion. Cats were also venerated for their ability to see in the dark and catch vermin that threatened the home.
Did the animals die of natural causes before mummification? Or were they killed for sacrifice?
It depends on the animal. We know that ibises were raised in farms to be killed and mummified, because there was such a demand to send messages to the god Thoth and because ibises could be raised in captivity. On the other hand, animals like falcons were harder to raise for this purpose, so some probably died of natural causes.
Who is this god with a crane's head?
That is Thoth, the god of wisdom and writing. I see why you would call it a crane, but is actually an ibis, another type of bird!
The bird's long, curving beak resembles the reed pens used by scribes.
Why was the ibis so important to the ancient Egyptians?
The ibis was connected with Thoth, the god of wisdom and knowledge. He also had dominion over the by products of wisdom and knowledge such as writing literacy and magic.
He became associated with the ibis because its long beak resembled the shape of a scribes writing implement. It also had associations with the crescent moon and therefor another connection to knowledge, through the study of astronomy.
Many of these animal mummies date to relatively late in Egyptian history, a period of cultural change when foreign rulers took power in Egypt. In these times of uncertainty and flux, it makes sense that people would seek advice from the wise god Thoth, which is why there were so many ibis mummies!
Did all god’s have corresponding votive animals?
In theory, I think, yes, but there are not votive animal cemeteries devoted to each Egyptian god.
In reality, the ancient Egyptian pantheon included hundreds of major and minor deities. Their "official" religion was built of many even more ancient religions. Large scale animal cemeteries are generally dedicated to major, nationally recognized deities.
What is the ibis mummy
Hi! An ibis is a type of water bird with a long, curved beak. The ancient Egyptians associated them with Thoth, the god of wisdom and writing.
There were certain temples where the priests bred the birds specifically to be mummified and sold to the public for making donations to the god.
Thank you!!
Which god is this?
The animal at the top of that stela is a ram-headed lion who is referred to as “Amun-Re, Lord of the thrones of the Two Lands [Egypt] who is in front of Amara West.” The priest, Hori is kneeling before him.
The ram was seen as a symbol of virility very early on in Egyptian history. The lion was also seen as representing strength and kingship. Those characteristics are being embodied by Amun-Re when he is shown in this composite form.
This stela was donated by a man named Hori to the god Amun-Re.
Could you please tell me a little more about this object? Is there any provenance? Do you know what kind of bones inside?
Unfortunately the bones in this coffin could not be identified, they are too degraded. The Brooklyn Museum acquired this coffin and its contents from the New York Historical Society in 1937.
Great! Thanks so much
Who did the crocodile get offered to?
The god Sobek, who was associated with military power, and fertility. Most animals who live in the Nile are associated with fertility, because the river is the source of all life in Egypt.
Is there any documentation of the specific messages they sent with votive mummies?
Some of these written messages have survived. People asked for help with things that seem very familiar to us today: unkind family members, unfair co-workers, etc.
Another common complaint was about illness. These messages could be written on papyrus or linen, and could also be read out loud.
Tell me more.
This small human shaped mummy actually contains an ibis which would have been offered to Thoth, the god of wisdom.
Ibis mummies were some of the most often donated in ancient Egypt. As many as two million ibis mummies were donated at Saqqara alone!
Tell me more.
The large animal on the bronze figurine you sent is called an ichneumon, which is also known as an African Mongoose, they were seen as the counterpart to the shrew and served a similar purpose to Sun Gods like Re and Horus.
Would this have just held ashes?
This actually would have head a very small cat's body (a kitten or a fetus) which would have been made even smaller through the mummification process.
Why is this mongoose referred to as an ichneumon?
Ichneumon was a popular term in Medieval literature that referred to a creature that could defeat serpents and dragons. The term, Greek in origin, has been traced back to the Classical period when it has a similar meaning and more specific ties to Egypt and the pharaoh.
Scholars have determined that the creature referred to as the ichneumon must be the Egyptian mongoose, or an embellished version of the animal. As in Medieval literature, the ancient Egyptians venerated the mongoose for its ability to defeat venomous snakes.
What is the history of the piece?
This cat was mummified as an offering to the goddess Bastet who was often depicted with the head of a cat. Bastet and cats themselves were associated with protection because cats are very maternal and are also known to kill vermin like mice!
Can you give me a brief history of why animals are mummified?
The exhibition covers the main reason for the vast quantities of animal mummies known to archaeologists today: They were thought to carry messages to the gods. There was an industry in the temples of Late and Ptolemaic period Egypt that kept herds of animals to be used for votive mummy purposes.
Why is the cat mummy so long?
The cat mummy is long both because of the way the animals corpse was positioned in the wrappings and the fact that the wrapping itself adds extra padding. It's a surprisingly simple explanation, I know. If you look at some of the more elaborate mummies than the cat one in the last room, you'll notice that their decoration is actually compensating for a lack of a complete mummy inside. The cat mummy, meanwhile, does in fact have a full set of remains.
Thank you.
Tell me more.
This is a typical example of a votive mummy. The ancient Egyptians believed that animals has spirits that could carry messages to the gods. The ibis was associated with Thoth, the god of wisdom.
Thank You
Is this actually a corn mummy? It looks like a falcon or hawk.
It looks like a hawk because it has been made in the image of a deity, but the material inside is in fact grain, wax, and earth.
A falcon god, Sokar, shown here, was a common shape for corn mummies made during annual rituals in honor of the god Osiris. The corn represented renewal and resurrection, related to Osiris, the god who died and was resurrected as the Lord of the Dead.
Do the animal mummies turn into gods?
The ancient Egyptians believed that they did! They believed that the animal's soul would become a god and join the other gods when they were mummified.
They also believed that they could send messages to the gods along with the souls of the animals. That's why they mummified so many!
Are these hippos copulating? Is copulation an Egyptian word?
They are! Fertility, birth, and rebirth were very important concepts in ancient Egypt. Hippos are extremely protective of their young, so their are often associated with fertility and childbirth.
Great question: "copulation" does sound Egyptian doesn't it? I believe the root of the word is actually Latin.
Looking at that sculpture the first time, I was surprised to see the bumps on the hippo's snout. This is a detail that only people very familiar with the animal would have thought to include!
Wow wow wow! They must have really known the animals.
Yes! And respected them greatly! The hippo was one of the most dangerous animals in Egypt. They were wise to be watchful of them!
Thank you!
Tell me more.
The cartonnage of Hor, and his mummy inside, are included in the Soulful Creatures exhibition to illustrate some and the ancient Egyptians' beliefs about the power of animals. Did you notice all the animal-headed deities on the sides?
I didn't, that's awesome thank you
You're welcome! This type of container served to identify, protect, and transform the deceased assisting in their journey from the world of the living into the world of the dead. The animal-deities helped protect Hor's body and soul through his journey.
Why is this kid fighting a platypus?
It's not a platypus actually and their not fighting either, although I see why you might think that. The animal is called an ichneumon, or an African mongoose. It was an animal that was associated with creator god Atum.
The "kid" is meant to be a representation of a king. The way his hands are positioned suggest he once held an offering, given to the god to placate him or curry his favor in some regard.
Tell me a bit about the corn mummy
The corn mummy doesn't actually contain any corn. Here, it refers to "grain" more broadly. The term corn is an artifact of the German language, where corn means all grain, not just maize.
Egyptians considered grain a living element, embodying the concept of resurrection and renewal. "Corn" mummies like these were created in connection with annual festival such as Khoiak, which linked the god Osiris, who died and was resurrected, to the fertility of the earth.
So this is what they’re referring to?
Yup! It's grain, wax and earth, wrapped in bandages and placed in the wooden coffin that is visible to you. The image on the front is the falcon god Sokar. Sokar, in conjunction with Osiris stood for the transformation from death to rebirth.
Why did some animal shaped coffins have different animals inside?
There could be a couple reasons. Falcon-shaped coffins could have a shrew inside as a stand in for a mongoose or ichneumon, like a cat can stand for a lion. The representative of the mongoose was meant to protect the falcon from snakes.
Are there really animal skeletons inside of mummies?
There are a number of ibis mummies in the exhibition. Some of them contain full bird mummies and some contain just partial remains or even just a feather! A few mummies have no animal remains at all. It appears that in some cases, the elaborate wrappings compensate for partial mummies.
What do the hieroglyphic symbols represent? Do they tell a story?
Hieroglyphs are like an alphabet. They represent sounds (and concepts in some cases). Put together, they form words, sentences, stories even. Do you see a coffin near you that is in the shape of a bird? The label calls it "Corn Mummy"
The body and feet of this coffin have a hieroglyphic inscription on them that we have translated. It reads:
"Hail, Sokar-Osiris, Greetings Re-Hor-Akhty and Khepri who created himself. How beautiful is your rising on the horizon when you illuminate the two lands with your rays! (All) the gods rejoice when they see Horus, King of The Sky, the Wnwt-cobra on your head, the Crown of Upper Egypt and the Crown of Lower Egypt on your brow.They have made their seat, while Thoth abides on the prow (of the sun boat.) Thoth abides in order to see the beauty of this, your image. I have come before you and I am with you."
So, it doesn't tell a story, it represents the prayer or plea to the god to help in the afterlife?
They can say anything. In this case it is a prayer. But hieroglyphs are just like letters. They can be used to express anything. The name of a person, their job title, a list of ingredients, a prayer to a god, or limitless other things. All inscriptions express different things in the Egyptian language.
So it is possible to translate all the hieroglyphs?
Yes! Scholars can read and translate most hieroglyphs into English or any modern language.
Very cool
What is happening in this scene?
The human figure represents a king and the animal facing him is a vastly oversized ichneumon or mongoose. The ichneumon was venerated in ancient Egypt for its ability to see in the dark and to kill snakes.
The animal was believed to be able to protect the sun god from dangerous serpents he may encounter in the underworld.
Any idea as to type of dog?
We don't actually have genetic information on these two dog mummies but because of their size they are likely desert dogs of some kind. Like most images of dogs in ancient Egypt, they were likely associated with the god Anubis or Wepwawet
No X-ray either? Perhaps they were puppies.
No, none on view unfortunately. They did do C-14 dating on the linen wrapping but the animal remains may have been too fragile or deteriorated to take a sample.
Yes, puppies are most definitely an option as well. We have evidence of ancient Egyptians mummifying kittens, juvenile crocodiles, and young ibises as well.
Thanks for your feedback.
How did the museum acquire these mummies?
We acquired many of them from the New York Historical Society which acquired them from other collectors. Others, like this ceramic coffin, were acquired directly from excavators working for the Egypt Exploration Society a British organization that conducts scientific excavations.
Can you give me more info on the Model of a Bull?
The main point of interest with that object is that the single bone could stand for the whole animal. Bulls, of course, are very large so the bull-shaped bundle was much more practical. The bull was actually one of the most important animals in Egyptian mythology. One sacred bull, the Apis bull, lived in the temple of Ptah and was thought to be a manifestation of the god. When the Apis bull died, a new one was sought out. They were identified by their unique markings including a white spot on the forehead.
Why did they leave the animals' bodies in salt before wrapping them?
That was a way of dehydrating the body and preserving it so that the organic matter would not rot and decay.
It is not unlike the way that some foods are preserved in salt.
What is this made out of
That is made of Egyptian alabaster which refers to calcite.
It is a depiction of an Egyptian King, Pepy I. Take note of the falcon behind his crown. The god of kingship, Horus, was often depicted as a falcon. This statue emphasizes the close relationship between the king and god.
Since ancient Egyptians thought animals had souls, were many vegetarians?
There is significant evidence that ancient Egyptians ate meat. The "Stela of Intef and Senettekh" shows a table of offerings which includes multiple types of meat, including cow and goat.
Ancient hypocrisy! Did they have pets as we think of them?
They did indeed. If you look at the same stela, in fact, you will see a dog waiting below the two figures under their chair!
Did the ancient Egyptians recognize animals as having souls?
The ancient Egyptians did recognize animals as having souls much like their beliefs about humans. They also believed that preservation of the body was essential to a successful journey to the afterlife to join the gods. This explains why it was primarily these votive animals that were mummified; it was to ensure that the animal's soul would make it to the afterlife and bring with them the prayers of the donor.
Where is the glass?
As to the glass on the bull's head, there are residual amounts of glass in the eyes, which would have originally been glass inlays.
Interesting. I didn’t know they made glass that far back.
Yes! The earliest glass was made in the Near East. The Egyptians began producing glass (using techniques learned from their neighbors) in the New Kingdom period.
More about this please.
Of course! This cat was mummified as an offering to the goddess Bastet, who was often depicted with the head of a cat. Bastet and cats were associated with protection because cats are very maternal and known to kill vermin like mice.
The mummies would be buried with prayers, either written on papyrus or spoken. Once the animal was buried, the could was thought to travel to the realm of the gods and convey the person's message to the god the animal was associated with. In this case, Bastet!
Tell me more.
That wooden sculpture is of a seated baboon. Baboons were associated with the god of wisdom and knowledge, Thoth. You'll notice that the back is flat and undecorated, meaning this likely served as a part of a shrine.
Why did the ancient Egyptians mummify cats and dogs the most?
Actually, the most popular animal for mummification appears to be the ibis! Although there are millions of dog mummies as well.
Why is the ibis the most mummified animal?
The practice of mummifying animals really became popular later in Egyptian history when Egypt was in constant flux. Foreign rulers, such as the Persians and then the greeks, brought about a great degree of cultural change which left ancient Egyptian feeling uncertain about their future.
The ibis was associated with the god of wisdom and knowledge, Thoth, the god most people turned to in times uncertainty because he was also said to known the future. When one purchased and buried a mummy at a temple they could include a message. The soul of the ibis was thought to carry that message or plea to Thoth!
What is a cynocephalus baboon?
It's a type of baboon found in Africa. Cynocephalus refers to the shape of the baboon's head, which appears like a dog's head.
The baboon species P. cynocephalus was actually not native to Egypt, but found farther south, further up the Nile, so they were imported! However, cynocephalus baboons are widely found in ancient Egyptian iconography, sacred to the god Thoth and messengers to the gods.
Is an ibis a bird? How did they mummify it?
Yes, it is a type of water bird with a long, curving beak. Priests would set out food to attract flocks of these wild birds, some of which would be captured, killed, and mummified. They also took advantage of birds that died of natural causes.
The animal was dried using natron, a type of salt found in abundance. Then it would be wrapped in linen that was soaked in plant resin.
For the gods?
Yes! The Egyptians believed that animals had souls and could carry messages to the gods. The ibis is associated with Thoth, the god of writing (because the reed used to write with resembled the bird's beak).
A god of writing is so cool.
I think so too!
What is this?
That is a crocodile mummy! People thought that the crocodile soul could bring messages to the god Sobek, a crocodile god associated with the Nile River.
Tell me more about Scarabs.
These scarabs represented the cycle of the sun and rebirth to the ancient Egyptians. Scarabs, also called dung beetles, create balls of dung, which were viewed as symbols of death and decay. They then rolled the balls of dung which, to the ancient Egyptians, mirrored the way the sun moving across the sky!
The wooden scarab here is actually a scarab coffin, as scarabs could be mummified to communicate with sun gods. The stone scarab is a heart scarab, an amulet that was buried with a mummy.
Baby sarcophagus? Oh, animal mummies! Never mind.
I can see why you might think that! This sarcophagus actually isn't for an animal either, but it does tie right into ancient Egyptian beliefs about animals.
The contents of this coffin are known as a "corn mummy," though not corn in the English sense of the word, it is a symbolic mummy made of grain. The decorated and inscribed, falcon-headed coffin make it into an offering to the gods.
Why was it forbidden to wrap more than one animal in one bundle?
That's a great question. In 174 BCE, a new regulation stated, “one god in one vessel.” This was one of several new regulations passed in response to corrupt practices concerning animal mummies and their sale at the House of Thoth in Saqqara. Though it was not outlined exactly what problem bundling multiple animals together posed, the evidence suggests that it undermined the sanctity of the votive object.