Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Animal mummies from the Saqqara Necropolis.

In 1964 archaeologist Walter Bryan Emery of the Egypt Exploration Society was excavating a Third Dynasty mastaba tomb (above-ground tomb constructed of mud bricks), while looking for the tomb of the legendary Egyptian pyramid-builder Imhotep, when he discovered that it had apparently been entered and re-used much later, during the Ptolemaic Period (332–30 BC), by people who had left graffiti, pottery and mummified Bulls and Ibis. Subsequent investigations showed that the south burial shaft of this tomb, as well as the main burial shaft of an adjacent tomb, had been filled with large numbers of lidded pots containing Animal Mummy bundles. Emery cleared one of these shafts to a depth of ten metres, finding a corridor off which there were numerous side galleries, all containing numerous animal-mummy-pots. Emery removed about 500 of these offerings, which he noted were of pleasing appearance and probably produced by a single workshop, but did not study them extensively, instead distributing them to museums across the UK. However, if records of how this distribution was carried out were kept, and when in 1981 Geoffrey Martin of the University of Cambridge attempted to trace the fate of these mummies he could locate only 164.

In a paper published in the journal Antiquity on 18 February 2019, Stephanie Atherton-Woolham and Lidija McKnight of the University of Manchester, Campbell Price of the Manchester Museum, and Judith Adams of Radiology at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Manchester Academic Health Science Centre, and the Division of Informatics, Imaging & Data Sciences at the University of Manchester, describe the results of a study of the Saqqara Animal Mummies, in which those they were able to locate in UK museums (now down to thirteen with location data preserved, plus three that they believe to have come from the same location - Atherton-Woolham et al. report being aware of a further six Saqqara Animal Mummies in the collection of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, but the remainder of the material appears to have been lost) were examined at Manchester University using non-invasive macroscopic and radiographic techniques, including digital radiography using a Philips Eleve Digital Diagnostic system, and computed tomography conducted using a Siemens Somatom Definition AS+.

(Top) The approximate location of the Saqqara Tombs. (Bottom) Section of Tomb 3508 showing the South Shaft filled with Ibis mummies and a Bull mummy. Atherton-Woolham et al. (2019).

The first two Mummies listed, 3508-46 DUROM.1971.121, and 3508-46 DUROM.1971.122, are housed in the Oriental Museum in Durham, having been acquired from the Egypt Exploration Society in the 1960s as ‘Ibis Mummies’; Emery recorded almost all of the Mummies as Ibises, though several have now been shown to contain other animals. Both of these are wrapped in linen shrouds; in 3508-46 the outer linen shroud has a gap at the upper end of the bundle, though this is obscured by a heavy wrapping of string, while in 3508-166 the shroud is simple, with a linen appliqué and dyed linen string motif representing the Sacred Ibis, shown standing upon a divine plinth.


Durham Oriental Museum: 3508-46: (Left) Shroud covered with concentric and lozenge thread layers. 3508-166: (Right) Appliqué ibis standing on a plinth Lidija McKnight in Atherton-Woolham et al. (2019).

The next four mummies examined come from the collection of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, who obtained them from the Egypt Exploration Society; no date of acquisition was recorded, but given the designations assigned to the specimens (3508-42 1969.A.450, 3508-58 1969.A.540, 3508-59 1969.A.464, and 3508-97 1969.A.449) it seems likely that the specimens were received in 1969. Three of these mummies are identified in the museum records as Ibis, while one, 3508-59 1969.A.464, is listed as a Snake or Crocodile.

3508-58 1969.A.540 has a shroud which is folded around the front of the mummy, meeting at the back in a seem which is covered by a linen strip that runs from the shoulder to the foot. The collar of the mummy is circled by a strip of slightly darker linen, and the sides of the head packed out with folded linen strips. The mummy has a moulded Ibis head, and the remains of similar feet, though the skeletal remains inside seem to be those of a small Bird of Prey rather than an Ibis. 

3508-58 1969.A.540, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery: Shroud with simple modelled head. Lidija McKnight in Atherton-Woolham et al. (2019).

3508-59 1969.A.464 is listed in the museum records as a Snake or Crocodile, while Geoffrey Martin identified it as a Snake, on the basis that similar bundles found elsewhere had contained Snakes or other Reptiles. The specimen is an amorphous bundle rapped in plain linen, which could quite conceivably have contained a coiled snake, but which when examined radiographicly was shown to contain the skulls and articulated limbs of three Shrews, placed upon a linen pad then wrapped in another sheet of linen and coated with resin.

 
3508-59 1969.A.464, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery: (Top) Amorphous shape with simple design of overlapping circular strips; (Bottom) AP digital radiograph showing the contents of the bundle with an MNI of 3, demonstrated by three Shrew skulls. Atherton-Woolham et al. (2019). 

Specimen 3508-157 1969.11.42 comes from the collection of the World Museum at National Museums Liverpool, who obtained it from the Egypt Exploration Society in 1969, and is again listed as an Ibis. This mummy is wrapped in linen with the outer layer made up of elaborately folded linen strips that form a lozenge or diamond shape on its surface.

3508-157 1969.11.42, World Museum Liverpool: Elaborate nested lozenge design formed from linen strips and thread. Lidija McKnight in Atherton-Woolham et al. (2019).

The next two specimens, 3508-160 UC.30692, and 3508-165 UC.30693, are both in the collection of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, who obtained them from the Egypt Exploration Society in the 1960s; both are listed as Ibis mummies. 3508-160 UC.30692 has a linen covering folded into an elaborate pleated herringbone pattern, with an appliqué motif comprising the partial remains of an ibis wearing an Atef crown, on an elaborate divine standard, facing the squatting figure of the goddess Maat, while 3508-165 UC.30693 is damaged and has lost most of its outer covering.

3508-160 UC.30692, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology: Herringbone with appliqué design. Lidija McKnight in Atherton-Woolham et al. (2019).

Specimen 3508-174 1969.486, from the Ashmolean Museum, who again obtained it from the Egypt Exploration Society in the 1960s, is also listed as an Ibis mummy.

Specimen 3508-179 E.3.1969, from the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, who again obtained it from the Egypt Exploration Society in 1969, is also listed as an Ibis mummy, and has an image of the god Thoth on its outer surface.

Specimen 3508-180 A.53.1969, from the collection of the Bolton Museum and Art Gallery, who again obtained it from the Egypt Exploration Society in the 1960s, is also listed as an Ibis mummy.

Specimen 3508-181 UC.30690, from the collection of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, who again obtained it from the Egypt Exploration Society in the 1960s, is also listed as an Ibis mummy, and was shown by radiography to have contained a single, complete, articulated individual at the time of mummification.

The final three specimens have no recorded point of origin, but are assumed to have come from the Saqqara tomb due to their similarity to the other mummies.

Specimen 11501, from the collection of the Manchester Museum, who obtained it from the British Museum in 1969, the British Museum having received it from the Egypt Exploration Society. This is again recorded as an Ibis mummy. This specimen has a shroud made from a single square of light-coloured linen, with an outer covering of 63 linen strips folded into a herringbone pattern, with an appliqué motif of the god Thoth wearing an Atef crown and holding an ankh in his right hand (the left hand is missing, and seated on a throne, made from three different-coloured linens. Specimen 11501 was shown by radiography to have contained a single, complete, articulated individual at the time of mummification, though it had suffered significant postdepositional damage to the thoracic spine, which suggests a lack of evisceration during mummification, which resulted in biological degradation of the internal organs, which in turn resulted in the collapse of delicate structural elements, such as the ribcage.

11501, Manchester Museum: Fine herringbone with shroud cap and appliqué design. Lidija McKnight in Atherton-Woolham et al. (2019).

Axial and reformatted coronalCTslices showing the contents of 11501 as an example of mummification in toto of a complete Ibis. Atherton-Woolham et al. (2019).

Specimens 1969.0212.12 and 1971.0227.153 are in the collection of the British Museum, and were obtained from the Egypt Exploration Society in 1969 and 1971 respectively. Both are listed as Ibis mummies.

See also...

http://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2019/02/metropolitan-museum-of-art-in-new-york.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2018/12/investigating-ancient-iron-works-of.html
https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2018/08/britain-returnd-looted-sumerian.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2018/07/micromammals-from-byzantine.html
https://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2015/05/philistine-and-hellenistic-remains-from.htmlhttps://sciencythoughts.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-death-of-ramesses-iii.html
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