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Origins of Egypt’s Sacred Ibis Mummies Examined

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Egypt Ibis MummyQUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA—According to a Cosmos Magazine report, paleogeneticist Sally Wasef of Griffith University and her colleagues analyzed DNA extracted from the mummified remains of African sacred ibises and found it unlikely that the ancient Egyptians raised the birds in hatcheries or farms. The remains of at least several million Threskiornis aethiopicus, mummified between 600 B.C. and A.D. 250, have been recovered from ancient temples dedicated to Thoth, the ibis-headed god of wisdom. Ibis mummies are thought to have been available for purchase at the temples, where they were put on display as offerings, and then eventually moved into tunnels and storage rooms beneath the temples. The 40 DNA samples in the study were collected from five such catacombs. Wasef and her team members were able to recover mitochondrial genomes from 14 of them, and found that none of these birds were closely related to each other through the maternal line, as they would have been if they had been bred in captivity for generations. She suggests the priests of Thoth captured wild birds or collected their eggs seasonally, then raised the chicks for eventual mummification without trying to breed them. Threskiornis aethiopicus is now extinct in Egypt. To read more about animal mummies, go to "Messengers to the Gods."

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