Wild birds as offerings to the Egyptian gods


Picture: Initial author Marie Linglin samples a mummified Northern very long-legged buzzard specimen at the Musée des Confluences, Lyon.
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Credit history: © Romain Amiot/LGL-TPE/CNRS

Tens of millions of ibis and birds of prey mummies, sacrificed to the Egyptian gods Horus, Ra or Thoth, have been found in the necropolises of the Nile Valley. These a quantity of mummified birds raises the concern of their origin: were being they bred, like cats, or were being they hunted? Researchers from the CNRS, the Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1 and the C2RMF (1) have carried out intensive geochemical analyses on mummies from the Musée des Confluences, Lyon. In accordance to their results, revealed on 22nd September 2020 in the journal Scientific Studies, they were being wild birds.

Mammals, reptiles, birds: the tens of tens of millions of animal mummies deposited as offerings in the necropolises of the Nile Valley bear witness to an powerful religious fervour, and to the procedures of accumulating and getting ready animals that certainly contributed noticeably to the economic system from the Old Kingdom (3rd millennium BC) to Roman Egypt (1st-3rd generations Advertisement). However, the origin of these animals and the strategies of offer keep on being unfamiliar. For some tamed species, this sort of as the cat, breeding was almost certainly the most successful way of supplying big figures of animals for mummification. But contrary to cats, bird mummies address all stages of improvement, from egg to grownup, which may well suggest much more opportunistic sourcing procedures.

In order to ascertain the origin — breeding or searching — of the mummified birds, very small fragments of feathers, bones and embalming strips were being taken from 20 ibis and birds of prey mummies from the collections of the Musée des Confluences, Lyon. If these birds, which migrate in the wild, had been bred, their diet regime would have been homogeneous, of area origin and mirrored in the uniform isotopic composition (two) of the animal continues to be, regardless as to no matter if that diet regime had been made precisely or derived from that of coexisting people.

The numerous tissues were being for that reason dated utilizing the carbon-14 technique and the isotopic compositions of oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, sulfur and strontium were being measured, interpreted in terms of food sources and compared with people of contemporaneous human mummies. However, considerably from being homogeneous, these isotopic compositions confirmed a higher variability and “unique” signatures compared to people of ancient Egyptian people: the birds were being wild, migrating seasonally out of the Nile Valley.

These results, combined with that of a genetic analyze carried out by a further team (3), propose the mass searching and capture of birds as documented on specified tomb frescoes (for illustration on the wall of Nakht’s tomb in the Theban Necropolis). Without a doubt, the Egyptians almost certainly exerted a major ecological strain on wild bird populations very long just before the decline in avifauna noticed right now.



(1) This function, coordinated by the Laboratoire de géologie de Lyon : Terre, planètes et environnement (CNRS/ENS de Lyon/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1), is the end result of a collaboration with the Musée des Confluences (Lyon), the Laboratoire d’écologie des hydrosystèmes naturels et anthropisés (CNRS/ Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1/ENTPE) and the Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France. Other laboratories also contributed to this study: Laboratoire de biologie et de biométrie évolutive (CNRS/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1/VetAgroSup), Histoire et sources des mondes antiques (CNRS/Université Lumière Lyon two/Université Lyon 3 Jean Moulin/Université Jean Monnet/ENS de Lyon) and Préhistoire et technologie (CNRS/Université Paris Nanterre).

(two) A chemical aspect can exist in various versions, named isotopes, which are distinguished by their mass. Isotopic composition refers to the relative abundance of various isotopes of the identical aspect, this sort of as oxygen or carbon.

(3) Mitogenomic range in Sacred Ibis Mummies sheds mild on early Egyptian procedures, Sally Wasef et al., PLOS A person, thirteen November 2019. https://doi.org/ten.1371/journal.pone.0223964

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