The Ancient Egyptians were known for mummifying animals as well as humans. Animals that were mummified were often beloved pets or were part of votive offerings. Often, they were one of several different sacred animals. Some of the animals that have been found in mummy form include fish, birds of prey, crocodiles, snakes and baboons. It was known that dogs and jackals were also mummified due to their connection to the god Anubis. This deity had the head of a jackal and was associated with the afterlife as well as with mummification.
Egyptologists found a complex series of catacombs located between ten and twelve meters below the surface of the Saqqara desert approximately one century ago. Saqqara is an area where several important archaeological finds have been discovered. This particular structure was known at the time of discovery as the “Dog Catacomb” and individuals who located the complex found that it was full of the remains of mummified dogs. At the time that it was discovered, it was unknown just how many dogs had been placed in the structure. Now, scientists have returned to the site and have discovered that as many as eight million dogs and other animals were placed in the catacombs. They were placed there at some time between the sixth century BCE and the first century BCE.
The catacomb system is made up of a central corridor with side passages which branch off on either side. In many areas, the piles of mummified remains are up to three feet high. Unlike other animal mummies, which were carefully wrapped and placed in ornamented containers, the dog mummies in the catacombs were often poorly wrapped and were often undecorated. Because they were poorly wrapped, many of them had slowly deteriorated and so were difficult to separate into individual sets of remains.
The dogs were not all adults. Many were puppies and may have only been hours old when they were mummified. It is believed that the animals were bred at puppy mills that were located in the city of Memphis, the capital of ancient Egypt. It was believed that the animals could act as an intermediary between humans and Anubis. While the animal that had been mummified was sacrificed in the process, it was the dedication of the mummy that was considered the pious act and not its sacrifice.
When the catacombs were first discovered, a smaller side tunnel was also discovered. It was thought by many that this tunnel was used not to add more mummies to the catacombs but to remove them. Often in the past, animal mummies were sold and ground up as fertilizer. Many were shipped to England and used for such a purpose there.
The dog catacomb is not the only structure of its kind in the area although it is the largest. Several other catacomb structures were found in the same area. Some were dedicated to animals such as baboons, ibises, hawks, cats, cows and bulls.
While the practice of using animal mummies as an offering to various deities was quite common for centuries in Egypt, when the Romans conquered Egypt it slowly died out and eventually ceased sometime after 30 BCE.