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In Egypt, There Was Once a Tomb Full of Eight Million Dog Mummies

Devotees of the Ancient Egyptian deity Anubis buried dogs at the necropolis of Saqqara

(Mitsuaki Iwago/Minden Pictures/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Egypt (and the Internet) may be known for worshpiping cats, but a recent find suggests that dogs may have had their moment too. LiveScience’s Laura Geggel reports that a recently uncovered catacomb once contained the remains of an estimated eight million mummified dogs.

Man’s best friend(s) were buried at the necropolis of Saqqara, where bodies from the ancient city of Memphis were laid to rest. Also known as the “City of the Dead,” Saqqara has been called “the world’s most elaborate and extensive burial ground.” Geggel writes that it was home to busy temples, tour guides, and merchants in ancient days, many of them selling dogs who could be purchased and mummified as tribute to the jackal-faced god Anubis.

The study’s lead author, Paul Nicholson, has been studying the Anubis catacombs for years. His team learned that many of the mummified dogs were quite young, suggesting the existence of breeding centers around the necropolis. In their new study, the team highlights the “significant economic role” played by animal cults like that of Anubis in ancient times.

Nicholson and his team spent “countless hours” examining the catacomb, writes Geggel, uncovering the mummies of "jackals, foxes, falcons, cats and mongoose” in addition to dogs. Researchers think the animals may have been seen as interchangeable, but that doesn’t diminish their importance. They tell Geggel that worshipping animal deities may have been a statement of national identity when Egypt was invaded by other nations.

Animal mummification was so popular it even led to ancient scams — the BBC’s Rebecca Morelle reports that recently, up to a third of “mummified” “animals” in one museum ended up being fakes presumably sold by predatory animal vendors at temples.

You can view a gallery of photos from the dog catacombs here.

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