Image (from CT scan) by Salima Ikram and others, South African Mummy Project Team
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The tailbones of a mouse remain lodged in this kestrel mummy's esophagus. The stomach holds the rest of the mouse, along with evidence of several other meals.
Image (from CT scan) by Salima Ikram and others, South African Mummy Project Team

Look Inside an Ancient Egyptian Bird Mummy

Scientists were shocked by what they found in the stomach of a mummified bird.

This story appears in the September 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine.
A close-up of the stomach shows undigested bones, teeth, fur, flesh, and feathers—clues to what the kestrel ate.

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.