Romain Amiot, a researcher at the CNRS in Lyon, conducted a study on samples of mummified birds stored in the reserves of the Musée des Confluences in Lyon. The results of his study provide a better understanding of the relationship between humans and animals in Egypt at the time of the pharaohs.
During excavations in about fifteen temples and necropolises in the Nile Valley, archaeologists have discovered tens of millions of mummified animals. But how and why did they find themselves in this situation? This is the question that the researchers wished to answer.
Several types of mummies
Several types of mummies have been discovered. First there are the sacred mummies, which are those of the animals that represented the incarnation of the gods on Earth. These animals lived in temples and, by the end of their lives, were mummified to be preserved in the afterlife. There are also votive mummies. These are offerings to the gods made by the living.
Finally, we find the victualled mummies, which were intended to accompany the dead to the afterlife to serve as food. Pets were also mummified so that they could be buried. Dogs, cats, and all kinds of pets could be mummified. These mummies did not specifically contain the entire bones of the animals, but sometimes only part of them.
A study to understand the origin of mummified birds
Romain Amiot and his team studied the origin of mummified birds. To do so, they studied the isotopic composition of several species of ibis and birds of prey from the collections of the Musée des Confluences de Lyon. These birds being migratory in the wild, they would have consumed food and water from different places. If they had been bred, there would have been no difference in the origin of their food. Isotope analysis is the process of transforming solid samples from the bird’s feathers or bones into a gas that will be analyzed by a mass spectrometer.
Hunted birds not bred
The analyses confirmed the hypothesis that the birds were hunted and not reared. This study therefore demonstrates that in the time of the pharaohs there was an economy based on the capture and sale of birds. Bird populations were under great pressure due to hunting for the practice of religious rites. This type of study provides a better understanding of the interaction between humans and biodiversity thousands of years ago.