An Egyptian Sacred Animal Mummy of an Ibis, Late Period, ca. 664 - 332 BCE
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Between roughly 650 and 250 BCE, ancient Egyptians sacrificed mummified ibises to Thoth, god of magic and wisdom, who was depicted with a human body and the distinctive long-beaked head of the bird. Archaeologists have found these votive offerings in ancient Egyptian necropolises, where the bird mummies were interred after being offered to Thoth to cure illnesses, gift long life, or even sort out romantic troubles. This well-preserved bundle contains the body of a mummified sacred ibis. The accompanying x-rays show the bird's body is folded into a crouch, with the head tucked under the wings. The body has been wrapped in undyed linen bandages that were bound tightly around the figure.
Research on animal mummies has shown that the majority of mummies found at the large animal cemetery sites are pre-adults who were purposely killed for use. It was thought the birds were deliberately bred in large centralized farms, however, a new study suggests that most ibises were actually captured in the wild and possibly kept on farms for only short periods of time before being sacrificed and mummified.
The Egyptians considered certain individual animals to be living manifestations of a god. Those individuals were duly mummified when they died and buried for eternal life, then replaced by another single living manifestation. During the first millennium BCE, many multiples of animals associated with certain gods were specially raised in temple precincts as simultaneous avatars of that god and then mummified in large contingents and deposited in catacombs for eternal life. The ancient perception of these multiples, the evolution of the practice in this direction, and variations within the practice are not easily accessible to us. But the hundreds of thousands of often elaborately prepared animal mummies found in catacombs and other locales testify to its ancient resonance.
Condition: Intact and in very good condition overall.
Provenance: Victor Pafundi private collection, Florida, acquired from the trade in the 1970s.
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