Sacred animal mummy of ibis with snail shell inside beak
Late Period–Roman Period
Dynasty 26 or later
ca. 400 B.C.–100 A.D.
Linen, animal remains
h. 50.8 cm (20 in); w. 12.7 cm (5 in)
Gift of James Douglas, 1890
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 130
The Egyptians considered certain individual animals to be living manifestations of a god, such as, since earliest times, the Apis bull . Those individuals were duly mummifed when they died and buried for eternal life, then replaced by another single living manifestation. During the first millennium BC, many multiples of animals associated with certain gods were specially raised in temple precincts as simultaneous avatars of that god and then mummified in large contingents and deposited in catacombs for eternal life. The ancient perception of these multiples, the evolution of the practice in this direction, and variations within the practice are not easily accessible to us. But the hundreds of thousands of often elaborately prepared animal mummies found in catacombs and other locales testify to its ancient resonance.
Research on animal mummies has shown that the majority of mummies found at the large animal cemetery sites are pre-adults who were purposely killed for use. Some of the mummies are actually ‘substitute’ mummies containing only a few bones or feathers or possibly just sticks or sand.
Recently a review of the museum's animal mummies and their x-rays was conducted in consultation with an expert in their study, and brought to light a number of interesting points. In this particular case the wrappings, where the face of the divine animal is missing, contain the full skeleton of an ibis. In the x-ray at least one snail shell can be identified in the bird's beak. An ibis mummy from Abydos with a snail in its beak was also noted not long ago, and a recent study found three other ibis mummies whose internal organs had been wrapped and replaced in the body along with snails or grain. Apparently these small foodstuffs provided sustenance for the animal's eternity.
Collection of Dr. James Douglas, Quebec City. This piece was probably acquired between 1851–1865, when he is known to have traveled and collected in Egypt. Donated to the Museum by his son James S. Douglas, 1890.