National Geographic : 2009 Nov
• The innermost secrets of mum- mies at the Egyptian Museum have emerged in a recent study. A wooden, cat-shaped coffin (opposite, at right), plastered and whitewashed to imitate limestone, stands about 14.5 inches tall, dwarfing the kitten inside (x-ray, left). Spiral wrappings and a painted mask conceal a grown cat---one of countless thousands buried as votive offerings in the sands of Istabl Antar. would have companionship in eternity. Ancient Egyptians who could a ord it prepared their tombs lavishly, hoping that their assembled per- sonal items, and everything shown in specially commissioned works of art, would magically be available to them a er death. Beginning in about 2950 . ., kings of the 1st dynasty were buried at Abydos with dogs, lions, and donkeys in their funerary complexes. More than 2,500 years later, during the 30th dynasty, a common- er at Abydos named Hapi-men was laid to rest with his small dog curled at his feet. Other mummies were provisions for the dead. e best cuts of beef, succulent ducks, geese, and pigeons were salted, dried, and wrapped in linen. "Victual mummies" is what Ikram calls this gourmet jerky for the herea er. "Whether or not you got it regularly in life didn t matter because you got it for eternity." And some animals were mummified be- cause they were the living representatives of a god. e venerable city of Memphis, the capital for much of Egypt s ancient history, covered 20 square miles at its largest in about 300 . ., with a population of some 250,000. Today most of its crumbled glory lies under the village of Mit Rahina and the surrounding elds. But along a dusty lane, the ruins of a temple stand half hid- den amid tu s of grass. is was the embalming house of the Apis bull, one of the most revered animals in all of ancient Egypt. A symbol of strength and virility, the Apis was closely linked to the all-powerful king. He was part animal, part god and was chosen for veneration because of his unusual set of mark- ings: a white triangle on his forehead, white winged patterns on his shoulders and rump, a scarab silhouette on his tongue, and double hairs at the end of his tail. During his lifetime he was kept in a special sanctuary, pampered by priests, adorned with gold and jewels, and worshipped by the multitudes. When he died, his divine essence was believed to move on to another bull, and so a search for the new one began. Meanwhile, the body of the deceased was transported to the temple and laid on a bed of nely carved travertine. Mummi cation took at least 70 days---40 to dry the enormous reposi- tory of esh, and 30 to wrap it. On the bull s burial day, city residents surged A. R. Williams is a senior writer for the magazine. Richard Barnes s recent book, Animal Logic, o ers a behind-the-scenes look at natural history museums.