Many Egyptian animal mummies are empty and do not contain animal remains, a science team from the University of Manchester and Manchester Museum informed in a BBC Horizon programme on Monday, 11 May. Demand for animals in rituals was so great at the time, that it vastly outstripped supply.
In the programme – 70 Million Animal Mummies: Egypt’s Dark Secrect – a camera crew followed a team of Egyptologists and radiographers who used latest medical imaging equipment to scan hundreds of animal mummies removed from Egypt over the past 200 years.
Many of the animal mummies, among an estimated 70 million that had been wrapped and buried in underground catacombs, did not have the animals’ remains inside – they are either empty, half empty, or have other things stuffed inside them.
Scanning revealed several baby crocs inside a crocodile-shaped mummy. (Image: BBC)
A third contained no animal remains
Team leader, Dr. Lidija Mcknight, said:
“We always knew that not all animal mummies contained what we expected them to contain, but we found around a third don’t contain any animal material at all – so no skeletal remains.”
The team also used an X-ray machine and CT Scanner, that would normally be utilized to look inside children, to view beneath the wrappings of the mummies without damaging the specimens.
The BBC Horizon team joined the scientists last year and filmed about a dozen of the scans.
The work formed the basis for Monday’s documentary which explored the bizarre roles animals played in ancient Egyptian belief and rituals. By creating 3-D images of their content, experts are learning more.
The researchers believe there was an enormous appetite for these religious offerings, and demand for the mummies probably outstripped supply.
A cat mummy that was found to contain just a few cat bones. (Image: BBC)
The researchers said they do not think that not filling the animal mummies was done as a scam. People who bought them may have known they were not complete mummies.
Dr. Mcknight and colleagues scanned animal mummies including shrews, cats, falcons, birds, and a five-foot long Nile crocodile.
A mummy in the shape of a crocodile was found to have eight baby crocodiles wrapped carefully together.
In another scan, an intricately crafted cat-shaped mummy with small ears and a nose contained only a few pieces of cat bone.
Video – Egyptian animal mummies