Animal Mummies
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The mummified cat and the X-ray showing its skeletal structure. Late Period. Length 34.1 cm. YPM catalog no. 256937.

Animal mummification occurred throughout Egyptian history, but increased tremendously in Late Period Egypt, as evidenced by the thousands of mummified animals and the many animal deity figurines that have been found from this period. Certain animals, such as ibises, falcons, cats, bulls and crocodiles, were thought to be holy, the living representatives of Egyptian gods.

The animal mummies in the Division of Anthropology’s Egyptian collection were also X-rayed in 1999 by researchers Ron Beckett, Bill Hennessy and Gerry Conlogue of the Bioanthropology Research Institute at Quinnipiac University.

Again the results were revealing. A mummy catalogued in the collection as a falcon turned out to be empty (see X-ray image at left; YPM catalog no. ANT.6944), a fake relic sold to some unsuspecting pilgrim. The X-rays of the cat and ibis mummies were more fruitful, and reveal the arrangement of the skeletons in these wrapped animals.

 

Active research on the mummies continued in 2000, and the application of new methods of diagnostic imaging produced exciting information. The collaborative project expanded to include the Yale–New Haven Hospital and the Yale University School of Medicine.

A computerized tomography (CT) scan of an ibis, one of the mummified animals featured in the renovated exhibition Daily Life in Ancient Egypt on the Yale Peabody Museum’s third floor, also produced fascinating results. The ibis mummy has several of its internal organs, and the wing feathers can be clearly seen in the CT scan.

 

Yale University was one of the first institutions in the United States to collect Egyptian antiquities, with the purchase in 1888 of more than 1,000 artifacts from Victor Clay Barringer, a probate court judge in Egypt. The Barringer Collection still constitutes one of the finest and largest segments of the Peabody’s Egyptian holdings. Yale also obtained artifacts as a member, from 1899 to 1915, of the Egypt Exploration Fund, supporting expeditions to the important sites of Luxor, Abydos, Deir-el-Bahari and Oxyrhynchus. In the 1960s and 1970s Professor William Kelly Simpson, Professor of Egyptology at Yale and co-director of the Pennsylvania–Yale Expeditions to Egypt, contributed many objects from Nubia and Abydos.

The Yale Peabody Museum’s collection of more than 4,000 objects ranging in date from the remote, prehistoric Stone Age to the Roman period has grown to be one of the oldest and most extensive university collections of Egyptian artifacts in the United States.

 

Acknowledgments

We thank Dr. Ronald Beckett, Jerry Conlogue, and William Hennessy of Quinnipiac College for their continuing efforts in analyzing our mummies, Dr. Joseph Slade for interpretation of the radiographs, and Dr. Sanjay Saluja for coordinating access to the diagnostic imaging equipment at the Yale–New Haven Hospital.

Original X-ray photographs provided by the Bioanthropology Research Institute at Quinnipiac College. © Bioanthropology Research Institute, Quinnipiac College. All rights reserved.