Tuna el-Gebel, a village in central Egypt, is known as the necropolis of Hermopolis. The “City of the Dead” is famous for a large cemetery of mummified animals established two millennia ago.
Magdy Shaker, chief archaeologist at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, told Al-Monitor: “Excavations and research in the Tuna el-Gebel area began almost 100 years ago by a German archaeologist. [Gunther] Roeder and the famous Egyptian archaeologist Sami Gabra. Gabra was the first to discover the monuments of Tuna el-Gebel with the support of Cairo University and then Dean of Arabic Literature Taha Hussein during excavation works from 1931 to 1954. Later, a joint mission of the universities from Cairo and Munich carried out work that led to the discovery of the largest human cemetery in Greco-Roman Egypt.
Shaker explained, “The village of Tuna el-Gebel is located west of Malawi City and west of Hermopolis. It was the capital of the 15th Nome of Upper Egypt, and was originally called “Cities” in Pharaonic times and “Tahnet” in Roman times. Both names mean ‘blessing’.
Shaker added that Tuna el-Gebel features burial chambers decorated with a mixture of ancient Greek and Egyptian art. “The region is becoming more famous with new discoveries and the village of Tuna el-Gebel has not yet revealed all its secrets.”
Shaker said the animal burial site would be the largest ever discovered. “It includes four large catacombs with huge galleries carved into the rock. The ancient Egyptians buried the mummified remains of sacred ibises and monkeys inside these galleries.
He added: “The cemetery is divided into four parts, the oldest dating from the 26th Dynasty. Inside the cemetery there are two main roads and other smaller passages with large halls on either side where the owners of the birds would be received. At the entrance was a temple with a small stone altar which was used during funeral rituals specific to ibises and baboons.
Sabah Abdel Razek, director of the Egyptian Museum, told Al-Monitor that the Tuna el-Gebel area offers a historical record of ancient architecture, sarcophagi, statues of deities and human figurines, pottery, stone and glass containers, jewelry, mummies, papyri. , lamps, surgical instruments, a water clock and other artifacts. “All this shows the richness and diversity of the site” and the archaeological research carried out there makes it “one of the major archaeological sites in Egypt”, she said.
Abdel Razek pointed out that the Cemetery of Sacred Animals consists of catacombs and underpasses that stretch for a distance of more than 10 kilometers (six miles). She said: “Thousands of mummified ibises and baboons, symbolic of the god Thoth, have been found there. The site also includes the ruins of the great temple of Thoth and the dwellings which were inhabited by the priests in charge of the funeral and ritual service in this temple. Another temple was dedicated to the baboon god near the entrance to the cemetery of sacred animals.
Abdel Razek explained, “Animals in ancient Egypt were worshiped as tribal deities, and [their burial] was an important religious ritual at that historical time. Perhaps one of the most distinctive characteristics of Egyptian deities was their depiction with the heads of birds and other animals.” Circa 800 BC different parts of the country.”
She continued, “In some cases, a specific animal, like the Apis calf, which was sanctified by the god Ptah, was considered sacred. Sometimes the sanctified animals included all other members of a species. For example, the baboon and the ibis were two sacred animals of the god Thoth, while cats were the sacred animal of the god Bastet.
Salima Ikram, professor of archeology at the American University in Cairo, explained: “There are four different types of animal mummies. The first type were pampered animals that were buried with their owners, and the second were mummified animals that were placed whole or in pieces in the cemetery as symbolic nourishment for the deceased in eternal life. The third were sacred animals and the fourth were sacrificial animals.
Ikram told Al-Monitor: “Animals were mummified in the same way as human mummies, with modifications. Mummification relies primarily on drying the body to prevent the spread of bacteria that lead to mold. The ancient Egyptians usually emptied the body by making an opening in its left side or along its stomach. To mummify humans, guts were also mummified after being removed from the body and placed in special containers called canopic jars. Only the entrails of the birds were returned to the body after drying them in Natron salt. The drying process usually took 40 days and the full mummification process took 70. This period probably varied in the case of smaller animals. And after drying, the animal was rubbed with different oils to restore softness to its limbs before wrapping it in linen and preparing it for burial.
Ikram added, “Different animal mummies revealed different aspects of ancient Egyptian civilization and environment. Animal wealth was much more varied and broader in ancient Egypt than today. For example, the egret-ox species that was hallowed in ancient Egypt and was quite prolific at the time is now extinct, as are other types of deer and raptors.