ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Animal Mummies: Ancient Egypt’s Reverence for Beasts

Updated on August 19, 2017
Kosmo profile image

Archaeology is one of Kelley's great passions. He's read many books on the subject, as well as every issue of "Archaeology" since 1987.

Mummified cat
Mummified cat

Thousands of years ago Egyptians mummified millions of animals because they thought animals were as good as people, if not better

The ancient Egyptians had a different need for animals than the people of today, who make pets of animals, place them zoos or wildlife preserves, or send them to slaughterhouses. In contrast, the Egyptians thought animals were godlike or at least representatives of gods. Indeed, they thought animals had souls, just like people.

And since the Egyptians believed this life on earth would be continued in an afterlife, they did what they could to preserve what was left of the physical body so it could continue its existence. Thus, they mummified people and animals – in great numbers.

Let’s explore why the people of ancient Egypt mummified animals and reflect on how these beliefs may conflict with our own.

Please keep reading!

Mural depicting people and animals
Mural depicting people and animals

In the Early Days

Although humans were mummified earlier, the ancient Egyptians began mummifying animals about 7,500 years ago, during the Badarian Predynastic Period. (For comparison, the famous Pyramids of Giza were built about 4,500 years ago.) In general, animal mummies weren’t given the same care as that of human mummies – their bodies were simply dipped in resin, wrapped in coarse linen rags and then sold as offerings to the public.

However, studies show that going back thousands of years some animals were mummified using the best embalming techniques and wrapped in the finest linen. The best substances used for mummification were fats, oils, beeswax, sugar gum, petroleum bitumen and coniferous cedar resins. Whatever a person could afford to pay for mummification seemed to be the determining factor.

Animals as Gods

Why did ancient Egyptians bother to mummify animals? Well, the ancient Egyptians had great respect for animals, perhaps more than any other culture which has existed on earth. Evidence of this is that about 50 per cent of Egyptian hieroglyphs depict animals in some way, though never in a negative fashion.

According to the Egyptian religion, a person’s well being seemed to depend upon how well he treated animals. Moreover, their priests theorized that before a person could be admitted into the afterlife, the gods would ask him how well he had treated animals during his life on earth.

In fact, it was a crime to mistreat animals. In 60 B.C.E. the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote that he had witnessed the lynching of a Roman who had accidentally killed a cat! Moreover, when people came upon a dead animal, they would often flee rather than be accused of killing it.

Animals were also considered incarnations of various gods and/or as intermediaries between people and entities of the spirit world. Also, Egyptians gods, such as Horus and Thoth, were often depicted with the heads of animals.

Gifts to the Gods

Most animal mummies were made so they could be used as votive offerings. Many thousands of years ago, a bronze statue would be made of the animal that would then be left in a temple representing a particular god. But for a cheaper alternative in more recent times, a person could have an animal mummified and then offered to a god for whom he wanted to gain favor.

Interestingly, many animals were bred so they could one day be used as religious offerings. These creatures were sacrificed, that is, by having their necks broken. Actually, this seemed the most acceptable way of sacrificing animals. And, as time went by, these offerings could be rather cheap, little more than bundles of cloth containing a few animal bones or other body parts.

Nevertheless, modern scholars have estimated that at one time the 31 known animal necropolises in Egypt held at least 20 million animal mummies!


In those bygone days, many animals were kept as pets, of course. In fact, there may have been more cats kept as pets than any other animal in ancient Egypt. Cats represented the war goddess Bastet, whose worship began during the Second Dynastic period around 2,800 B.C.E. Of course, many of these pet cats were mummified. So many cats were mummified that by the nineteenth century the British shipped tons of them home so they could be used as fertilizer!

Other Animal Mummies

Just about all animals were considered for mummification by the ancient Egyptians. Ibises, baboons and crocodiles were commonly mummified, as were fish of all sorts, shrews, dogs, antelopes, jackals, birds of all types, as well as snakes and beetles.

Animal Cults

Perhaps the greatest animal cult to develop in ancient Egypt was that of the Apis Bull, which began about 800 B.C.E. The practice went something like this: A specific bull would be bred in captivity, treated as well as possible and then after death mummified in the best manner possible. Keep in the mind, the bull wasn’t the god; it represented a particular god such as Ptah or Osiris, the two major gods of creation. While living, the bull was considered a medium of communication with these gods.

When this Apis bull died or reached the age of 28, at which point it was sacrificed, the entire country went into mourning, and then the bull was buried using the most elaborate ceremonies available. Of course, this creature, and its organs, required a great deal of mummification, though no expense was spared, including replacing its eyes with artificial ones.

Animals as Food in the Afterlife

As the afterlife was considered a continuation of life on earth, animal mummies were often placed in tombs with human mummies. The animal mummies would be meant as pets for the deceased people, while others would be used as food, though these would be prepared in a way that meant they would be used for this purpose alone, that is, providing food for what the ancient Egyptians called the Ka (spirit) as it journeyed to the land beyond death.

For example, about 1400 B.C.E., pharaoh Amenhotep II went to his reward accompanied by mummies of his beloved hunting dogs, while his heir Thutmose IV, was interred with his royal pet cat.

Mummy, inside and outside
Mummy, inside and outside
Archaeologist Zahi Hawass discusses animal mummies
Archaeologist Zahi Hawass discusses animal mummies

Animal Mummies and Modern Archaeology

According to an article in the March/April 2014 issue of Archaeology magazine, the animal mummies of ancient Egypt didn’t come under close scientific examination until the twentieth century when they were subjected to X-ray radiography and CT scans. Since then, scientists have discovered that many animal mummies contain little if any animal matter. These were, in fact, fake mummies!

Regarding this discovery, Egyptologists found a document written on potsherds that tells a tale of corruption by priests at the Temple of Thoth in the necropolis of Saqqara. These priests were supposed to include one whole animal in each mummy, but they often didn’t deliver the goods and many were eventually sent to prison. Be that as it may, at one time the Temple of Thoth had 60,000 living ibises that were being prepared for mummification, and archaeologists have estimated that as many as four million ibises were eventually buried there.

Some of these mummies were found with papyri asking the gods for help in resolving disputes or provide assistance in curing an illness. Some researchers have suggested that people may have spoken to the mummies before burial, hoping they would pass on the request to the gods.


Although religious groups such as the Hindus have their sacred cows and Native Americans seem to have great respect for beasts of all sorts, animals are for the most part treated differently these days. Herded into abattoirs, humans devour animals and/or their various parts by the millions and billions. Of course, vegetarians and vegans beg to differ. Animal species are also going extinct at a great rate because of overpopulation and industrialization. Literally millions of species are disappearing before science can catalog them.

Maybe we would all be better off both physically and mentally, if we treated animals as if they were as good as people. The very fate of the world may be at stake.

Please leave a comment.

© 2014 Kelley Marks


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      I'd like to thank everyone from leaving thoughtful comments. I also find this subject fascinating and learned a lot while writing it. I still can't believe as many as 20 million animals were mummified in ancient Egypt. WOW! Later!

    • raymondphilippe profile image

      Raymond Philippe 

      6 years ago from The Netherlands

      Fascinating. This adoration of animals. Had not given the mummification much thought. You educated me on that. Thanks

    • prasetio30 profile image


      6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Very interesting hub. Ive never seen before. Thanks for writing and sharing with us. Voted up!

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      6 years ago from Chicago Area

      I've seen documentaries discussing mummification of ancient Egypt's animal companions. But 20 million of 'em? Wow! Great discussion of a culture I find utterly fascinating!

    • CMHypno profile image


      6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Great hub on animal mummies. I do like the ones that turn out to be no more than a few twigs wrapped in linen - I often wonder if the poor pilgrim realised they were being ripped off or was this the cheaper deal. The 'own brand' compared to the full animal mummy experience


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)