Several million mummified birds are found in ancient egyptian cult sites, sometimes piled up for kilometers in the catacombs.
It has so far been a mystery where the masses of sacred ibises (threskiornis aethiopicus) came from, which were killed during sacrificial rituals around 1800 to 2700 years ago. Genetic analyses presented in the scientific journal "PLOS ONE" now indicate that wild ibises were used and not those deliberately bred over generations in mass animal husbandry.
For their analysis, researchers led by sally wasef of griffith university in australia examined the genetic material of 40 mummified ibises from six agyptian catacombs. By comparing the DNA of 26 wild ibises from ten african regions such as south africa, zimbabwe, tanzania and madagascar, they determined the genetic diversity of the current birds and those sacrificed around 2500 years ago.
Diversity is similar in both groups, researchers report. This indicates that wild specimens, kept at most briefly in captivity, were sacrificed – and not those bred over generations in special farms. With selective breeding, a much lower genetic diversity could be expected.
It is possible that the animals were fed and tamed by priests in their natural habitat – on the water – or were captured and kept in enclosures shortly before upcoming sacrificial rituals. "If they were deliberately bred, it was probably only for short periods of time (such as a single season) before they were sacrificed and buried," scientists explain.
The sacred ibis has female plumage, a black head and is easily recognized by its long, curled beak. It disappeared from egypt around 1850, today it is mainly used in africa. In ancient egypt, it was considered a sacred bird that embodied the god of wisdom and science, thot.
The animals were sacrificed en masse in the years from about 660 B.C. To 250 A.D. And stored in burial grounds. Archaeologists have discovered a number of mummified birds in clay vessels that were stacked from floor to ceiling for kilometers in catacombs – for example in the famous necropolis of sakkara on the nile. Tens of thousands of ibis mummies were deposited in this facility alone each year, totaling about 1.75 million, according to researchers. In the animal necropolis of tuna el-gebel, there were as many as four million – more than are known from any other site.
With the disappearance of the species in egypt in 19. The rituals had nothing to do with the nineteenth century. Scientists rather suspect that population growth, urban development and destruction of habitats led to the end of the sacred ibis in egypt.