A new project surveying the Beni Hassan cemetery in Egypt has uncovered some bizarre tomb art, including paintings of a mongoose on a leash, numerous pelicans, and other animals rarely seen depicted in ancient Egyptian art.
Beni Hassan stands 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of modern-day Minya, one of Egypt's many great cities along the River Nile. The rock-cut tomb was mainly used during the Middle Kingdom period of Egypt, approximately 2055 BCE to 1650 BCE, as a burial site for society’s elite class of provincial rulers.
Recent research by Macquarie University's Australian Centre for Egyptology has surveyed the cemetery and discovered some particularly interesting artworks of animals that haven't been documented before. The findings were published in the Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt.
The large collection of murals in the tomb portray a range of scenes, including warfare, wrestling, trade, animal rearing, and many other aspects of everyday life. They also feature images of mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, amphibians, and mythological creatures.
Strangest of all, the new research discovered a depiction of a hunter holding a dog and an Egyptian mongoose (ichneumon) on a leash in the tomb of Baqet I, an 11th Dynasty monarch.
"No other images of leashed mongooses are known in Egyptian art; the representation in Baqet I is thus highly unusual," the study says.
Other ancient Egyptian statues and papyrus sheets have depicted the species before, however, this snake-eating mammal has never been depicted on a leash or in a domestic setting. In fact, they are often seen as an object of worship, following the mythological tale that the god Ra once turned into a mongoose to defeat a giant snake. Previously studies have even found the mummified remains of mongooses at numerous sites across Egypt.
Another unusual illustration shows dozens of pelicans. Again, this animal isn’t often seen in Egyptian artworks. However, it’s well-established that this animal was closely associated with death and the passage to the afterlife. Equally uncommon illustrations of bats were also found in the tomb.
The researchers hope this study of this tomb might shed light on the Egyptians' relationship with the rest of the animal kingdom. It hints at the possibility that ancient Egyptians partially domesticated mongooses, perhaps to control or hunt snakes. As lead author Linda Evans wrote, these discoveries “illustrate the rich zoological repertoire at the site, and its potential to enlighten our understanding of the Egyptians' intriguing relationship with the animal world.”
"It remains to be determined, however, why Beni Hassan was the locus of such avid zoological curiosity," it concludes.
[H/T: Live Science]