This story appears in the September 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine.
Peering inside the linen wrappings of an ancient Egyptian bird mummy, a CT scan has revealed a true rara avis—a kestrel that appears to have choked to death on a mouthful of mouse. Scientists were stunned to see tailbones descending the length of the esophagus. The rest of the rodent lay in the stomach, which also held traces of at least two other mice and a sparrow’s bones and claws. “That means the bird had eaten way too much,” says mummy expert Salima Ikram.
In the wild a raptor like this would have eaten its prey, digested what it could, and regurgitated parts such as bones and teeth. This bird was so stuffed it hadn’t had a chance to throw up, suggesting to Ikram that it was kept in captivity and force-fed. It was probably one of the many millions of animals that were bred to be sacrificed, mummified, and offered to the gods between about 600 B.C. and A.D. 250. In this case the kestrel was likely presented to the sun god Re, a fate it would have met even if it hadn’t gagged in unnatural gluttony.