Ancient Egyptians mummified millions of birds. Where did they get them?
Sacred ibises were sacrificed on an industrial scale—and new research may help us understand what led to the birds’ disappearance from the marshes of the Nile.
Between roughly 650 and 250 B.C., ancient Egyptians sacrificed staggering numbers of 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 literally millions of 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.
“I often compare it with the candles lit in Christian churches,” says University of Oxford archaeologist Francisco Bosch-Puche, part of a team that has excavated thousands of ibis mummies from the necropolis of Dra Abu el-Naga. “The [ibis] mummy would remind the god that they needed to