A zoo-load of rare and unusual mummified creatures has recently been unearthed at the Saqqara necropolis, an hour's drive south of the Egyptian capital Cairo.
The Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, Dr Khaled El-Enany, announced in a press conference that a team of archaeologists recently discovered dozens of mummified cats, lion cubs, crocodiles, birds, and scarab beetles in Saqqara, along with over 75 statues of cats and other animals.
Of the vast number of mummified cats found at the site, five were unusually large. Analysis and CT scans of the remains suggest at least two of the big cats are lion cubs. What species the other three large cats may remains unknown, although scientists are hoping to investigate with further scans and analysis of their bones.
“If it’s a cheetah, a leopard, a lioness, a panther – whatever, it will be one of its kind,” said Mostafa Waziry, head of Egypt’s Supreme Council for Antiquities, reports The Observer.
From mummied cats to the iconic Sphinx of Giza, it’s pretty evident that the ancient Egyptians placed a great amount of importance on cats in their culture, especially in their funeral traditions. Just last year, archaeologists found another haul of mummified cats and hundreds of cat sculptures at this same site in Saqqara. But while mummified cats are a fairly common find in archaeological sites in Eygpt – tens of thousands have been found over the centuries – lions are a rarity.
Today, all wild lions live in scattered populations in Sub-Saharan Africa, aside from one critically endangered population in western India. Historically, however, their range also covered North Africa, much of the Middle East, and even southern Europe.
The artifacts are thought to date back to the 26th Dynasty of the seventh century BCE. This era is considered a “renaissance era” for ancient Egypt as it spawned a range of new cultural ideas, primarily through increased trade and migration with its Mediterranean neighbors, the Greeks.
The lion cub mummies are undoubtedly the haul's show-stealers, but a number of other fascinating relics were found at the site, including a number of statues depicting the lioness goddess Sekhmet and the goddess of war, Neith. They also discovered dozens of wooden and bronze statues depicting bulls, cats, mongooses, ibis, crocodiles, cobras, falcons, and the ancient Egyptian god Anubis in animal form.
Waziri told reporters at the press conference that his personal favorite discovery was a rare large stone scarab beetle sculpture, described as “the largest all over the world,” according to the Times Of Israel.
Unfortunately, bandaged bundles found in Egyptian burial chambers aren't always exciting offerings or rare creatures. In 2015, researchers found that a surprising number of artifacts thought to be mummified animals were just bundled clumps of mud and leaves.