Nova (1974–…): Season 42, Episode 17 - Animal Mummies - full transcript

Animal mummies from the Egyptian catacombs are examined. Also discussed, the role of animals in Egyptian beliefs.

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In 1871, three
Egyptian brothers,

Mohammed, Ahmed,
and Hussein El Rasul,

were scrambling up a steep
cliff path in the western desert

when they came across a secret

that had remained hidden
for 3,000 years

Several boulders had shifted

to reveal a narrow cleft
in the base of the rocks

Clambering inside,

they discovered a shaft
12 meters deep

And at the bottom,
a tiny man-made passageway

The brothers crawled
into the blackness

and uncovered something
they would never forget

Dozens of mummified bodies

One of them was discovered
to be a high priestess

and daughter of a pharaoh

Her name was Maat Kare

But Maat Kare
was not buried alone

At her feet was
an infant-sized bundle

For over 100 years,
it was presumed

Maat Kare had died
in childbirth,

her baby buried with her

But modern medical techniques
revealed the bundle

to be something very different

We'd always thought
it was a child,

but the x-ray showed that
in fact,

it contains a green monkey
and not a baby at all

The brothers' discovery
was yet another episode

in centuries of interest
in Egyptian mummies

both human and animal

Since then,
thousands of animal mummies

have been found
in Egyptian tombs

Now experts are applying

21st-century science
and technology

to look inside
these animal mummies

These mummies give an insight

into understanding
the relationship

between human beings and animals

Animals were magical creatures
who could speak to the gods

And new techniques
are helping archaeologists

to expose the shocking reality

at the heart
of this ancient ritual

"Animal Mummies,"
right now on NOVA.

In the dead of night

at the Royal Manchester
Children's Hospital,

medical experts are at work

not on the living,
but on the ancient dead

Radiographers and Egyptologists
working here

are collecting information
on hundreds of animal mummies,

the biggest survey of its kind
in history

The team works at night
in order to have access

to imaging technology
normally reserved for patients

They use these
cutting-edge tools

to see inside the mummies
without damaging them

First on the x-ray table
this evening is a small bundle

that's usually on display
at Manchester Museum

It was made in southern Egypt
between 664 and 332 B C

Next, a CT scanner

takes hundreds
of x-ray images or slices

from 360 degrees
around the mummy

These images are combined

to create
a three-dimensional model

It brings up nice definition
of the wrappings,

doesn't it, the CT?


And before your very eyes


There we are

What a rodent

He's got very,
very prominent incisors

but then he's got a space
until you reach the molars

He couldn't be a shrew,
could be?


To be able to look at the inside
of something that was wrapped

possibly two-and-a-half
thousand years ago

in the deserts of ancient Egypt

is absolutely astounding,

and it never, ever fails
to amaze me what we find

when we have scanning sessions
at the hospital

There's always something
that's a little bit surprising,

and that's what makes
every mummy different

have long been fascinated

by the bizarre practice
of animal mummification

During the 19th
and 20th centuries,

hundreds of such mummies
were unwrapped,

including at least two
for a 1970s documentary

The wrappings
contain dozens of creatures

including cats, crocodiles,

hawks and wading birds,
snakes, shrews, and even fish

But unwrapping the mummies
in this way

completely destroyed them,

and much of the information
they contained was lost

Every mummy is unique,

and it's impossible to know
what's in it

until it's been scanned

This mummified rodent
has been made in two parts

So we've got the main
mummy bundle here,

and then on its back,
we've got the secondary package

which is sort of fixed
to the top

So if we scroll through,

we should see
if there's anything

Is there anything in it?

No, it just goes

So it could have been
constructed just of linen

But why would you put
an empty linen bundle

onto a mummy of a tiny shrew?

Because we did think
that would contain something

Basically looking for anything
that could be grain,

which is what
it's always been presumed,

that the little package
contained a food offering

for the rodent in the afterlife

But we certainly can't see
anything on this scan

With or without grain,
the backpack was there

to help this little animal's
journey into the afterlife

The ancient Egyptians believed
that animals, like humans,

had a soul that survived death

It's quite clear that
for the ancient Egyptians,

death was simply a transition
into another world

that replicated life on earth

For instance,
the bases of some coffins

have maps of the afterlife

so the deceased would know
just where to go

to find their way through
into the next world

Whether human or animal,
by mummifying a body,

the ancient Egyptians believed
they were providing the soul

with a physical vessel for
its journey to the afterlife

Mummification is very important
for animals

just as it is for humans

because that is the act
which makes sure that

they can make it from this life
to the next and live forever

Nice and gentle

There we go


That's cute

Back at the hospital, the team
is scanning a crocodile mummy

He's a lovely one,
I like him

He's got a very
unnatural shape, though,

because he's quite short

Do the scan now, and in we go

Continuing the Victorian
obsession of mummy collecting,

this specimen found its way
into the Manchester Museum

via German collector
Maximile Robineau,

who visited Egypt in 1896

Its exact contents
have remained a secret

for thousands of years,
until now


Didn't expect that, did we?

So we had what looked like

a complete crocodile
mummy bundle,

so we were expecting
one crocodile

And we've got four skulls
in a line

It's picking something up
here and there

Oh, yeah, what's that?

So there's something else
in there as well


There we go!

There you go!

There's your little crocodile

Oh look, a complete one

A complete crocodile,

and just look, there's one there

Oh, wow

So that's one, two, three

So how many in total,
do you think?

Four skulls and four babies

Yeah, four baby crocs and four

Oh, eight

Eight all in one

But the question is,

why on earth would you have
eight individual crocodiles

in one quite small mummy?

Each mummy
should have one animal

They have got crocodile mummies
where they've buried babies

with an adult one, haven't they?

But I mean, these aren't
adult sized, are they?

They're still quite small,

and then there's
sort of hatchling ones

That's interesting

The scan reveals more

There's evidence of tricks
of the embalmer's trade

So they've used the stick
or a reed to create the shape

Of course, you've not got
the complete skeleton

to provide shape and rigidity

Obviously, a great amount
of time and effort

has gone into producing what
looks like a complete crocodile

from bits and pieces,

Whoever mummified
these eight crocodiles

did so with considerable care
and attention

to ensure their souls
made it to the afterlife

And we know that
for very important animals,

like Maat Kare's monkey,
the process of mummification

could be as involved and complex
as it was for humans

Embalming was a highly technical
and skilled practice

People specialized in it

It wasn't,
"Oh, I'll do it myself

and then take it off
and give it to the god"

So you had to go to the temple,

and someone else would do
the whole thing for you

The care, attention, and expense
lavished on an animal

to help it on its journey
to the afterlife

may seem extreme

But there was one creature

whose treatment
overshadowed all others

A few kilometers south of Cairo

is one of the most important
sites in ancient Egypt:


Overlooking the ancient city
of Memphis,

Saqqara was a sacred place
five kilometers square

And it was
the final resting place

of the most important animal
in ancient Egypt

A beast so strong,
so powerful, so virile,

it could symbolize the very
moment of creation itself

It was called the Apis bull,
an animal venerated

since the dawn of ancient Egypt
as far back as 3,000 B C

Dr Aidan Dodson
of Bristol University

has been studying this bull cult
for over 20 years

The bull was very much

a pampered individual

It would be massaged, it would
be adorned with flowers,

you know, certainly a life
far above the farmyard

Only one sacred Apis bull
could exist at any one time,

and when it came to the end
of its natural life,

it was given the equivalent
of a state funeral

In many ways, the death
of one of these sacred bulls

was almost like
the death of the king

After taking over two months
to mummify,

the bull was then interred
in its own huge sarcophagus

alongside the Apis bulls
that had lived before it

They're perhaps two meters high,

three, four meters long,
absolutely vast things

The burial of a sacred bull
like the Apis

clearly involved
a vast amount of human effort:

the people who were quarrying
the tomb,

those who were making
the sarcophagus for it,

those who were doing
the embalming process

There's also going to be

all kinds of ceremonial
around there

There's probably feasting
around it as well

So there is a huge amount
of resource being put into this

More than 50 Apis bulls
were buried at Saqqara

None of their remains survive,

as they were either stolen
or destroyed centuries ago,

but experts do know

an extraordinary amount
of care and effort

went into mummifying and burying
every one of these great beasts,

making the cult of the Apis bull
one of the greatest examples

of devotion to animals
in human history

But these bulls weren't
the only creatures

the ancient Egyptians venerated

The fertile plains
of the Nile Valley

once teemed with animals,

and the people who lived there
were fascinated

by their seemingly
superhuman abilities

Each type of animal
embodying certain powers

that humans didn't have,
so this made them special

It almost seemed
as if the animals

did have these magic qualities

Cats, for instance,
that can see in the dark...

What a brilliant skill to have

So they had great respect
for animals

This is because animals had
a sort of supernatural sense

of how nature worked

The ancient Egyptians
observed that crocodiles

could predict the levels
of the Nile's yearly flood

Crocodiles build their nests

just above where
the flood will come,

and they do this long in advance
of any of the water rising

So by looking at where the
crocodiles had made their nests,

the Egyptians could help predict
the height of a flood

These seemingly
supernatural powers

linked animals to their gods

Animals were able to do things
simple humans couldn't

They'd see a falcon, the black
outline against the sun,

flying at great heights

which to them appeared
to almost touch the sun,

so what better creature
to embody, to exemplify

the great sun god Ra
than this wonderful falcon?

Baboons are associated
with the sun god

because in the morning,
just before sunrise,

they turn towards
where the sun rises,

stretch up their arms,
and make a terrible racket

So the Egyptians
thought the baboons

are singing to the sun
and helping the sun rise,

and they're protecting the sun
from his enemies

Animals were magical creatures
who could speak to the gods

Of course, not all of them
were sacred,

otherwise they wouldn't eat them
or use them to plow the fields

It is only special animals
that were regarded as sacred

The ancients believed
that one of the creatures

that could communicate
with the gods

was a bird commonly found
on the banks of the Nile:

the sacred ibis

So we can see that

its skeleton is in the central
part of the bundle

In Manchester, the team
is scanning an ibis mummy

which likely came from a site
in Middle Egypt at Abydos

This is a mummy bundle
presumed to be that of an ibis

from the external appearance

Ah, there we go, you see?

The sacred ibis bird

has been extinct in Egypt
since the 19th century,

but similar species
can still be found in Africa

So there, we can see
the complete skeleton there,

so it's been positioned

with the limbs folded in,
the wings folded in,

and then the neck bent
all the way back

round the top of the spine

So it's essentially upside down


The head is down
towards the feet

Two-and-a-half thousand
years ago,

huge flocks of ibises
would migrate to the wetlands

of the Nile Valley
when it flooded

The birds were associated

with the Egyptian god
of wisdom, Thoth,

because their long beaks
evoked the crescent moon

Artifacts found buried
with sacred ibis birds

provide clues to why the ancient
Egyptians mummified them

Written in ancient
demotic script,

it's thought these scraps
of papyrus date

from between the second
and first centuries B C

Archaeologists think
they were originally taken

from an area
to the south of Saqqara

at another religious site
called Tuna el-Gebel

Now the papyri are held

in the storerooms
of the British Museum

Carey Martin is an expert
in ancient languages

and can translate
this demotic text

It's a plea from a son
whose father is desperately ill,

and the son is worried that
his father's about to die,

and he says to the god,
he's praying to the god,

he says, "Look,
if my father recovers,

"if he doesn't die
of the illness

"that he's currently
suffering in,

"I will make an offering for
the burial of the sacred ibis

"I will provide money for this

"and I'll provide it
on a regular basis

"If my father lives,
I will help you,

I will honor you, oh God"

So he's desperate

His father is dangerously ill

He doesn't know what else to do

He's appealing
to the gods for help

Pleas to the gods like this one

would have been placed with
the animal mummy before burial

An animal mummy

was more potent
than anything else

to get your message
to the god, because of course

once the animal died
and was mummified,

its spirit immediately moved
into the land of the gods

So there, it had
direct access to the gods

and could take
your request to them

and constantly be there
saying, you know,

"Hello, God, so and so
wants such and such,"

and constantly be there

reminding the god
of your request

The divine was an integral part
of day-to-day life

It was totally
and completely tied up

in their normal existence

And the Egyptians
must have had so much faith

in what this mummy
would do for them

in terms of the gods
granting them their wishes

The ancient Egyptians
were using animal mummies

as what are termed
votive offerings...

Vessels to carry their pleas
to the gods

Votive offerings

are not just something
that you see in ancient Egypt

This practice continues today

because votive candles,

which are the same
as a votive mummy, really,

are burnt in churches,

and the smoke is supposed
to take your prayer off to God

So you can see
how organized religion today

still uses the same trope
that ancient Egyptians did

Different animals were mummified

to carry pleas to different gods

Just how extensive
this practice was

can be revealed
at the sacred site of Saqqara

Buried by shifting desert sands,

underground tombs here were lost
for nearly two millennia

Professor Paul Nicholson
has been excavating

and mapping the Saqqara site
for over 20 years

He first entered this tomb
in 1995

Now he's returned
to explain what he found

We have masses and masses
of dog mummy

You can see it piled here
to a depth of over a meter,

some thousands of them
running back 20 or so meters

to the end of the burial gallery

Originally, we can imagine
that most of them

would have been nicely stacked,
one on top of the other,

in layers

They would have been
well wrapped, soaked in resin

But what's now happened is that
that resin has broken down

The bandages have gone to powder

They've been turned over
by robbers

so that we're left with only
a few complete examples

sitting on the surface
of the pile

And this is only one
of over 40 galleries

in the catacomb itself

Our estimate is that

there were somewhere between
seven and eight millions animals

originally placed
in the dog catacomb

It's likely the dog catacombs
were in use

for around 500 years,
meaning up to 16,000 dogs

were mummified and buried here
every year

The dog catacombs are huge

The main corridor
is around 170 meters long,

with galleries leading off it
every few meters

Originally, each gallery

was a meter and a half deep
in dog mummies,

but this catacomb is only one

of at least eight underground
animal tombs at Saqqara

filled with up to 15 million
animal mummies

of different types

And Saqqara is not the only site

30 more have been found
across Egypt

that may have held up to
70 million mummified animals

Most experts believe the vast
majority of these animal mummies

were votive offerings

These millions of votive mummies
that we have,

each one is the prayer

of an individual,

so they don't just represent
a prayer, but they represent

millions and millions
of believers

who actually went to the temple,
made this dedication

and believed in that god

When animal mummies were given,
it was a very formalized system

The person who wanted to give
the gift would go to the temple,

talk to a priest and then
purchase from the priest...

Because the temples
were not foolish...

One kind of animal mummy

and then the priest
would be in charge

of dedicating it formally
to the god

after, of course, the person
had paid the temple

It depends on how much
one could afford

Of course if you were elite
and noble, you could easily go

and get lots of animal mummies,

or else entire families
might club together

so that one mummy
would be dedicated,

but with the name
of lots of people

From 500 B C, the demand
for animal mummification

increased massively

More and more people
were drawn towards it

as Egypt's political fortunes

It seemed there was
a never-ending series of waves

of foreign invasion,
which really threatened

their very way of life

And so they sought ways

in which they could best express
themselves as a nation,

and what typified the Egyptians
above all other nations

was their ability to mummify,
to preserve their dead

The Egyptians turned
to their religion,

turned to animal mummification

as a kind of means
of demonstrating that

to all these foreigners
that were coming in

This was a way for them

to define themselves,
feel more secure

and establish their identity

To account for the millions of
animal mummies found at Saqqara,

experts think that large
religious festivals

must have been held there,

attracting pilgrims
from across the country

Thousands and thousands
of people

would probably flock there
for the big celebrations

So you would have lots
of people there,

you would have lots of people
buying things, selling things,

food, drink, so it would be
densely populated, very lively,

noisy, smelly, and it would be
really sort of a mass festival,

the same way you have at
important shrines nowadays

Early writers suggest hundreds
of thousands of pilgrims

were visiting Saqqara,

spending huge amounts
on votive offerings

The personal ritual of offering
an animal mummy to a god

had become big business

When one looks at the number of
sites where animal mummies occur

throughout Egypt, you can tell
that this was a massive industry

because you had to have people
all over the country

who were rearing
different kinds of animals

You have to feed them,
you have to look after them

Then there were people who were
going to mummify them,

so you need all the materials
that were used for mummification

as well as all the personnel

People were expending
huge amounts of money

on bandages and paint, plaster,
gilding, maybe even glass eyes,

all kinds of stuff in order
to produce these animal mummies,

and this had a huge impact
on the economy of Egypt

In using animal mummies to carry
their pleas to the gods,

the ancient Egyptians

the rare and special act
into a mass industry

New imaging techniques
have given archaeologists

more insight into why

But now, medical and forensic
science is also revealing

how this huge industry
actually worked

At Swansea University, material
scientist Dr Richard Johnston

is using the latest
industrial technology

to study a mummified cat

Little is known
about its origins,

but the style of its wrappings
suggests it died around 600 B C

The micro CT scanner
produces images

with 100 times the resolution
of normal CT scans

Zoo archaeologist
Dr Richard Thomas

from the University of Leicester
can use them to determine

how this cat may have lived
and died

And then if we remove
the wrappings completely,

so we can just see
the bones then


I mean it's amazingly clear

The scans are so detailed

they allow a 3-D printer
to create an exact replica

of the skull

For the first time,

Richard can actually feel
the bones for himself

This is around
two and a half times

the size of the original skull

The level of detail,
it's incredible

One of the things that's
strikingly obvious is

that you've got a really big
piece of skull missing

Is it evidence that this cat
didn't die naturally?

If we look at this image,
this is

a slice or a plane
through the skull

Now, this is a really helpful
image, in fact, actually

You can see where the missing
portions of the skull are

that have broken away and fallen
into the brain case

So what that tells us
immediately is that this damage

must have happened
after mummification

so clearly this cat mummy
has not been well treated

following mummification

So what, then, was
the cause of death?

Well, can we have another look?

That might give us
some useful clues


So the first thing that I can
tell is that this cat has

a full adult set of teeth
so this cat must have been

older than six months,

and if we take a really close
look at the mandible,

we can see that there's no signs
of gum disease

There's no tooth loss
that's happened

during the course of the life
of this animal,

which is the kinds of things

we'd expect if it was
a very old cat

So what else can we see?

I mean here you've got
the vertebrae of the neck

and you see how tightly packed
and close together they are,

whereas in between
these two vertebrae,

you've got this separation

There's this kind of big gap

that shouldn't be there

In all mammals, the atlas and
axis are the top two vertebrae

of the neck

In a cat this size, they should
be only a few millimeters apart

Now, one possibility is
that that kind of displacement

of the cervical vertebrae
can occur

through strangulation

or the breaking of
the neck of an animal,

and that would be a fairly
instantaneous cause of death,

and the strongest
possible clue we have

to how this animal may have died


But this cat isn't
the only animal mummy

which shows signs of being
deliberately killed

So this is the upper part
of the skull

and actually there looks
to be a defect there

Can you see in the skull,
in the top of the skull?

Oh that's right, yeah

So there's a bit of bone
actually missing there

The Manchester team is grappling

with their largest mummy,
a Nile crocodile

Get ready to catch him

He's actually quite heavy

It's all that resin, I think

Just move him back
in there, that's it

Just check, nice and slowly

Make sure he doesn't
come a cropper

That's brilliant

At nearly two meters long,
the team estimates

he must have been around
five years old when he died

The fracture pattern to
the crocodile's skull suggests

the fatal blow came
before he was mummified

But the scans reveal more

Something's happened here

The ancient embalmer who
mummified this crocodile

didn't use the most thorough

So can we scroll through?

So these little opacities here
are most probably gastrulates

which crocodiles swallow so they
ingest food in big chunks,

often whole, and then they use
stones which they've ingested

to break up the food, but of
course that does prove

that it's still got
its internal organs

because they're still
in the abdomen

so it's not been eviscerated

The reason that votive animal
mummies are probably

not as carefully made as other
kinds of animal mummies

is because they were
mass produced,

because when you had pilgrims
come, you would need thousands

and thousands of these things

and so if you want to have
a quick production line,

you can't expend the same amount
of time, effort, energy

and quality of materials
as you would for a pet

or a human being

These less sophisticated
mummification techniques

enabled the embalmers
to produce animal mummies

more quickly and cheaply

But it couldn't solve the most
serious problem they faced:

how to ensure they had a steady
supply of animals

to meet the demand
of visiting pilgrims

Lost for over 2,000 years,

this ibis bird catacomb
at Saqqara was rediscovered

by archaeologists in the 1960s

It's been sealed for 20 years

Now molecular biologist
Sally Wasef

is going to reenter the tomb

Over two million mummified
ibis birds are buried

in this catacomb

Sally's hoping to understand

how they were supplied
for mummification

by comparing samples
of their DNA

The DNA's usually not
in a very good condition

because inside a catacomb
it's really hot and humid,

and that helps degradation
to be faster for the DNA

But the ancient Egyptians helped
us by mummifying the birds,

which slowed
the degradation process

so it helped to preserve
some of the DNA

Unlike the mummy collectors
of the 19th century,

Sally works according
to strict rules

on which bones she can
take away as samples

Such a mummy, I'm not allowed
to open it or take samples from

because it's fully wrapped
and inside the jar

So I usually sample
from those broken stuff

where you can see the bones
loose, and such a bone is nice,

still have the skin intact,
the feathers and everything,

which give me more indications

that most likely I'll be ending
up with good DNA quality

from this bone

Back in the lab, Sally will be
able to reconstruct the DNA

of this mummified bird

from the fragments still
contained in its bones

She can then compare it
to other birds in the catacomb

to determine how closely they
were related to each other

Once we have that DNA picture
completed, what we do is

that we look at how those are
different from each other

Are they close together?

And we find a lot of similarity

between a very large number
of birds

We can say okay, those birds
were raised together,

they were farmed

Or if you have
too many variations,

actually they are caught
from the wild

or migrating from outside Egypt

Sally's research is ongoing, but
so far results have suggested

there is a low genetic variance

between mummified ibis birds
at Saqqara

If proven, it's evidence
the birds were being farmed

to satisfy the increasing demand
for animal mummies

700 meters away,
in Saqqara's dog catacomb,

the remains of eight million dog
mummies suggest

a mass breeding program for dogs
must also have been in place

Professor Ikram has been
studying the piles of bones

She's found more evidence

of how this animal production
line could have worked

One of the things we've found is

that there are really diverse
ages and you can tell this

from the jaw bones
because you get

these sort of teeny weeny
little jaws

and then you have huge things

And then they would have taken
the puppies away when they were,

well, very young, either drowned
them or just removed them

from their mother's care so they
would have died quite quickly

and could have been mummified

And then of course their mothers
would have whelped again

and so you would have forced
the breeding

to, instead of once
or twice a year,

to twice or three times a year,
which kept this puppy farm going

and gave us the eight million
dogs that we have here

Now these bones can reveal more

There is evidence of how the
dogs at Saqqara were treated

We have evidence for a lot
of sick animals

For example, something like
this, where there are holes

and you can see where the bone
has grown over

so this has been a diseased
animal that would have been

limping in its foreleg, and it
died when it was quite young

And here's another one, which
has some sort of horrible growth

coming out from an infection

Often you see this kind of
extreme disease on zoo animals

where they have been kept
in confined spaces

So this is why we think
that quite possibly

the dogs were kept in enclosures

They weren't always allowed
to move freely

If they got infected,

because the people who were
looking after them knew

that they'd be dead soon enough,

they didn't really bother
to take care of them

It's very likely

that many of the dogs that
ultimately find their way

into the dog catacomb

would have been bred in
and around ancient Memphis,

probably in a series
of puppy farms,

breeding perhaps dozens
of animals at a time

for mummification

The whole question
of the killing of animals

is quite a difficult one,

quite an emotive one for us from
a 21st-century perspective

However, what we have
to bear in mind

is that what they were doing
was providing

for the eternity of that animal,

providing a suitable burial
for a representative of a god,

so what they were doing
was a sacred act

By the end
of the fifth century B C,

these private rituals had grown
into a national obsession

Animals were being bred,
killed and mummified

at sites across the country,
employing thousands of workers

and generating huge profits

And then, 200 years later,

another huge political upheaval
shook ancient Egypt

The ruling Persians were
replaced by Greeks,

who poured money
into animal cults

It became a massive,
massive growth industry,

even more than before

They were spending the
equivalent of millions today

on maintaining cults that were,
for the Egyptians,

crucial to the continuation
of this culture

Animal mummification had become
a tool of state control

Religion is
a very unifying force

and politically, it's every
politician's dream

If you've got this idea of mass
control over millions of people

through a form of religion you
ultimately fund and sustain,

it's brilliant because you have
control of those people

Dozens of new temples
were being built,

encouraging more and more
pilgrims to visit sites

like Saqqara
and purchase animal mummies

But cracks were beginning
to appear

in the burgeoning industry

It seems the embalmers
had problems keeping up

with the demand

Remove the tissue paper


Aw, that's cute That's lovely

He's got a nice face

Nice face, nice ears

Shall we move him in then?


It's thought this beautiful
cat mummy was buried

at a site called Beni Hasan
in Middle Egypt,

but this mummy is not
all it seems to be

It's got the nice modeled face
with a little roll of linen

for the nose and then two eyes

So it's very cylindrical, it's
quite typical of a cat mummy

Let's have a look what's inside

What's inside?



"Not an awful lot" is
the answer to that

Oh, yeah

Would you say there's bone?

They've got the density of bone,

would you agree?

There's not limbs
or anything like that

You can't see long bits of,

of, you know, limbs
or anything like that



That's about the most
substantial, isn't it, really?

It's certainly not the complete
cat skeleton

that we were imagining
we would see

What you see on the outside
is not always

what you see on the inside

If they are skeletal remains,

they're in sort
of that area there

so if they've made a kind
of core, if you like,

from bits and pieces
that were lying around,

and then they've made it
quite deliberately elongated

and made into
a much bigger bundle


It's been very decoratively
wrapped and then given

this wonderful modeled face

In fact, these incomplete
or partial animal mummies

have been a common feature
of Lidija's study,

their contents hidden from
pilgrims and museum curators

for thousands of years

We found that in about
two-thirds of the cases

we have got some
animal skeletal material,

but then only in about half
of those do we have

a complete animal skeleton,

so somewhere between a third
and a half of all the mummies

we've looked at have
a complete animal inside

Most 19th and 20th century
Egyptologists thought

this was evidence the embalmers,

either struggling to keep up
with the demand for animals

or just keen to make
some easy cash,

were swindling pilgrims
by selling them fake mummies

without their knowledge

But by analyzing the wrappings
and resins

used in the mummification

scientists like Stephen Buckley
are challenging this assumption

What's interesting is
that we're seeing recipes,

different recipes
for different animals

We found with cat mummies,
for example, pistachio resin

from northeast Mediterranean

And yet the crocodile mummy,
we found sandarac,

a resin from northwest Africa,
from the Atlas Mountains

The molecular fingerprint,
if you like, is showing us

that they were using exotic,
expensive ingredients

from far and wide, so quite
a lot of care and expense

Crucially, Stephen's found
traces of expensive resins

not only on the complete
animal mummies

but on the partial ones as well

With these so-called fakes,

the embalming agents
where they're using

costly imported ingredients,
the recipes are the same

as those used on those mummies
where the full animal is there

So the fake mummies are

as far as the embalming agents
are concerned,

treated with the same amount
of effort and care and expense,

and it seems to be that with
that, whether it was just a bone

or in the real animal, as long
as the recipe was there,

as long as it looked right, that
was good enough for the gods

It's scientific proof of
the embalmer's intentions

To the ancient Egyptians, even
the tiniest fragment of bone

must have been deemed sacred
and worthy of mummification

You've got to remember these
things were presumably made

to be sold, sold to pilgrims,

so you want your product
to be attractive

and maybe it's sufficient

to have the sweepings
from the workshop

That's got enough magical

religious power to satisfy
your plea to the gods

If it's suitable
for the goddess Bastet,

presumably, the cat goddess,

then that's, you know,
the job's a good 'un

700 years after high priestess
Maat Kare had been buried

with her pet monkey,

ancient Egyptian animal
mummification had grown

from a few elite pets
and sacred animals

into a vast religious cult

and an industry engrained
in the fabric of society

where animals were not only
killed to be mummified

but were intensively bred
in the millions

to satisfy a national obsession
with animal mummification

These mummies give one
an insight,

a way into understanding
Egyptian history, the culture,

the religion, the technology and
the way people might have felt,

believed and thought,

and also the relationship
between human beings

and animals,

so it really is an astonishing
way in to understanding

a vast number of things
about the ancient Egyptians

But the ritual of animal
mummification would soon end

In 380 A D, the Romans,

who had conquered Egypt
nearly four centuries before,

officially converted
to Christianity, a new religion

that fiercely opposed all forms
of mummification

and animal cults

All Egyptian temples
were closed down,

and not only did this prevent
worship continuing,

but each temple functioned
as a kind of town hall

for every settlement
throughout Egypt,

so by closing the temple,
you not only put an end

to the pagan practices
of worship

but also the transmission
of ideas,

the mummification of humans
and animals

The demise of animal
mummification didn't only signal

the end of its religion, but the
entire Egyptian civilization

The early Christians did
everything they could

to distance themselves
from these pagan practices,

and that's when you see
a great divide,

and of course we in the modern
West have gone

with the Christian notions

The ancient Egyptians are left
over there and that's why today

we see their practices,
their beliefs as quite strange,

different to ours, and they can
be quite difficult to understand

and I think this is
nowhere better exemplified

than in their practice
of animal mummification

The great era of ancient Egypt
had ended

The immense pyramids
and imposing temples would stand

for thousands of years,

but the rituals of animal

became a distant memory

The desert sands gradually
covered the catacombs

and locked away their secrets

Now modern scientific techniques

are allowing
these sacred animals

to finally tell their story,

one last message carried
from the afterlife