Mummy Birds Recovered From Egypt Factory

Dan Morrison in Cairo, Egypt
for National Geographic News
August 9, 2007

Egyptian antiquities authorities have obtained eight mummified birds that had been displayed in a textile factory for nearly a century.

Three ibises and five falcons had apparently been kept in glass display cases since 1927 at the sprawling Mahalla factory, located about 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Cairo, said Zahi Hawass, director general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. (See an Egypt map.)

No one is sure how the mummies got there or why they came to be on display at the site's administrative offices.

Initially, however, the factory bosses were reluctant to let go of their ancient prizes.

"It was difficult at first to retrieve them," Hawass said.

But after three months of negotiations, the company agreed to release the beasts in exchange for replicas.

The mummies are now in the custody of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and may be displayed later in the museum's animal mummy room.

"The condition of the mummies is good," Hawass said. "No conservation has been done, but they are not in a bad condition."

(Hawass is also an Explorer-in-Residence with the National Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News.)

Animal Gods

The ancient Egyptians mummified many thousands of animals, often because of their symbolic association with deities. (Related: "Egyptian Animals Were Mummified Same Way as Humans" [September 15, 2004].)

The three ibises represent Thoth, or Djehuti, the ancient Egyptian god of learning.

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