Mummy dogs were godly go-betweens

U. CARDIFF (UK) — Millions of ancient dogs buried in tunnels were likely used as intermediaries between ancient Egyptians and the gods, according to new research.

The Catacombs of Anubis project, led by Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University, is examining an elaborate labyrinth of tunnels beneath the desert at Saqqara in Egypt that make up the catacomb for the burial of animals sacred to the dog or jackal-headed god Anubis.

The Dog Catacomb has been known since the 19th century but has never been properly excavated. The latest estimate is that some 8,000,000 animals, most of them dogs or jackals, are buried there.

Steve Mills, Cardiff University, investigates one of the chambers within the catacomb. (Credit: Scott Williams)

It is likely the dogs were bred in their thousands in special puppy farms around the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis.

“Our findings indicate a rather different view of the relationship between people and the animals they worshiped than that normally associated with the ancient Egyptians, since many animals were killed and mummified when only a matter of hours or days old,” Nicholson says.

“These animals were not strictly sacrificial. Rather, the dedication of an animal mummy was regarded as a pious act, with the animal acting as intermediary between the donor and the gods.”

Researchers will next conduct radiocarbon dating of the construction phases of the catacomb.

The work has been funded in part by National Geographic.

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