Madrid, 20 (Europe Press)
Mummification of animals was a widespread practice in ancient Egypt, and previous research has indicated that some mummified animals were thought to be physical embodiments of deities, while others may represent offerings to deities or be used in ritual offerings.
Researcher Daniel O’Flynn and colleagues at the British Museum analyzed the contents of six sealed animal coffins using neutron tomography – a technique that produces images of objects based on how well neutrons emitted from a source can pass through them. Attempts to X-ray the coffins prove unsuccessful. They publish the results in Scientific Reports.
The six coffins are made of copper compounds. The authors note that it is rare for such coffins to remain sealed. Three of the coffins, which are covered with images of lizards and snakes as well as bracts, date to between 500 and 300 BC and were discovered in the ancient city of Naukratis, according to the British Museum.
The fourth sarcophagus, topped with an image of a lizard, dates to between 664 and 332 BC and was discovered in the ancient Jewish city of Tell. The other two coffins, which are topped with images of part sea serpent and part cobra with human heads, have been dated to approximately 650-250 BC and are of unknown provenance.
The authors identified bones in three of the coffins, including an intact skull of dimensions similar to those found in a group of wall lizards containing species endemic to North Africa, as well as evidence of broken bones in two other coffins.
They also identified textile fragments inside three coffins that may have been made of linen, which was commonly used for mummification in ancient Egypt. They suggest that the animals could have been wrapped in linen before being placed in the coffins.
The authors found lead in all three coffins without bands, suggesting that lead may have been used to help distribute weight in two of them and repair a hole found in the other. They speculate that lead was chosen for its status as a magical substance in ancient Egypt, with previous research indicating that it was used in amulets and curses.
Investigators did not find any additional lead in the three arched coffins. They suggest that ties could have been used to suspend these lighter coffins from the walls of temples or shrines, or from statues or vessels used during religious processions, while heavier leaded coffins without ties could have been used for other purposes.