Scientists are gaining new insight into the ancient Egyptian practice of mummifying animals, using high-resolution 3D scans to peer inside mummies of a cat, a bird and a snake to learn about their treatment before being killed and embalmed.
Scientists claim to have digitally “unwrapped” and “dissected” the three mummies using X-ray micro CT scanning, which generates three-dimensional images with a resolution 100 times greater than a medical CT scan. Actual unwrapping can damage and dislodge structures within a mummy.
The three mummies apparently were made as “votive offerings” to gods at temples to act as a go-between between deities and living people, according to study co-author Carolyn Graves-Brown, curator of the Egypt Centre at Swansea University in Britain. They were long held in Swansea’s collection and their precise age and origin in ancient Egypt are unclear.
The researchers found evidence that the snake, a juvenile Egyptian Cobra, had been denied water while alive, based on its calcified kidneys, and apparently was killed by spinal fracture after being lifted by the tail and whipped in the air.
The coiled snake’s mouth contained a substance called natron and its jaw was placed in a wide-open position, consistent with the animal possibly having undergone the “opening of the mouth” ceremony.
The domestic cat also was a juvenile: a 5-month-old kitten, based on unerupted teeth within the lower jaw. Its neck was broken at the time of death or during the mummification process.
Animals and humans mummified
The study proved that the ancient Egyptians mummified not only human corpses but millions of animals too, particularly during a period of more than 1,000 years starting around 700 BC.