In ancient Egypt an animal (or part of an animal) was mummified for a variety of reasons (as the mummy of a sacred animal, to offer to a god, or to provide the owner of a tomb with provisions in the afterlife), but arguably the sweetest of these are the mummies of beloved pets.
Although we have examples of a wide range of animal mummies dating back to predynastic period (including donkeys, ducks, elephants, cattle, baboon, wildcats, and hippopotamus), and some of these were buried in their own coffins, we can not be sure that they were mummies of pets. They could have served a religious purpose, been evidence of the social standing of a person buried in the vicinity, or been intended as an offering to the gods. However, there are a number of cases where it is very clear that we are dealing with the mummy of a pet.
The earliest pets depicted on tomb walls are dogs and some were buried with great ceremony. Abutiu (or Abwtyw which could be translated as “with pointed ears”) was the hunting dog or guard dog of a sixth dynasty king (name unconfirmed) who was buried at Giza. An inscription listing the gifts provided for this beloved dog’s funeral was incorporated into the structure of a later mastaba after the funeral chapel of his master was demolished. Neither his mummy nor his grave have been discovered, but the inscription confirms he was buried with incense and perfumed ointment in his own dedicated tomb.
One of the most famous pet mummies is that of the cat of Prince Thutmose (the eldest son of Amenhotep III). He spared no expense in the burial of his beloved cat Tamiut (literally “she cat”). A special limestone sarcophagus was beautifully carved with scenes of the cat sitting in front of an offering table laden with delicious food. Along with the offering formula, the following text appears:
Words spoken by the Osiris, Ta-Miut “I bristle before the Sky, and its parts that are upon it. I myself am placed among the imperishable ones that are in the Sky, I am Ta-Miut, the Triumphant”.
Other animals also made popular pets. Isitemkheb, the wife of a High Priest of Amun in dynasty Twenty-One, was buried at Deir el Bahri along with her pet gazelle who had been wrapped in several yards of linen from the royal household and interred in a specially formed wooden coffin.
Ankhhshepenwepet (Dynasty Twenty-Five) was also buried with her pet gazelle. Her sister Maatkare (a God’s wife of Amun) was buried with what archaeologists initially presumed to be her baby. This discovery was somewhat surprising as Maatkare had apparently taken a vow of celibacy, but further investigation confirmed that the body was actually that of her pet monkey!
- Dunand, Françoise and Lichtenberg, Roger (2006) Mummies and Death in Egypt
- Ikram, Salima (2003) Death and Burial in Ancient Egypt
- Ikram Salima “Divine Creatures” (2005)) in Divine creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt, Edited by Salima Ikram
- Reeves, Nicholas and Wilkinson, Richard H. (1996) The Comlete Valley of the Kings
- Strudwick, Nigel and Helen (1999) Thebes in Egypt
Copyright J Hill 2017