Animal mummies

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Ashley Cooke on the mummies in the new Ancient Egypt gallery.
a woman in a lab coat looks at a screen showing an xray of the brown object on the desk in front of her

Examining the lamb mummy

The museum has about 60 animal mummies of various kinds, from crocodiles to dogs. In the new Ancient Egypt gallery there will be eight animal mummies on display in a showcase dedicated to animals. One of the mummies appears to be that of a very young lamb (museum accession number M13648). It was given as a gift to the museum in 1867 by the jeweller and antiquarian, Joseph Mayer. The intricate pattern of the bandages suggests it is of the Roman period (about 30 BC - AD 200). The National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden has 3 similar mummies that have been X-rayed and proven to contain the bones of very young lambs. We decided to X-ray our mummy to confirm the identification and the mummy's association with the god Khnumn, who is often depicted with a ram's head. We used the digital X-ray machine within the Reveal exhibition gallery at National Conservation Centre. We are now examining the results with the assistance of other colleagues.
 
But why was this little lamb killed and mummified? From the 26th Dynasty and on into the Roman Period (about 664 BC - AD 395) animals would be mummified en masse at cult centres for gods that were associated with animals. One such site was the temple at Bubastis which was sacred to the goddess Bastet. Bastet was often depicted in the form of a cat and pilgrims would purchase mummified cats so that they could make a votive offering (a gift) to the goddess.
 
Hundreds of thousands of cat mummies have been found in catacombs in Egypt. In 1890 about 9 tons of cat mummies from a catacomb at the cemetery of Beni Hasan were shipped into the port of Liverpool. They were sold off by the ton to be used as fertilizer. Bidding started at £3 per ton and gradually advanced to £5 17s 6. Thankfully this no longer happens!  If you'd like to learn more about animal mummies and how you could help care for the largest collection of animals mummies in the world visit the Egyptian Museum's 'Animal Mummies' website.