"Several reasons have led Egyptians to mummify animals: to eat in the afterlife, to be with pets, etc.," said Cecile Callou, an archaeozoologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. "But above all, animals were considered as living incarnations of divine principles and, therefore, associated with deities."
But many questions remain about the mummified dogs of El Deir. Researchers still want to know where the dogs came from, whether they were domestic dogs, whether they had owners and how they died. Callou pointed out that the ancient Egyptians had cat farms where cats were bred to be sacrificed and mummified -- could the same have been true for dogs?
Digging deeper into history
The French archaeologists hope to find answers to a different set of questions by searching for more preserved ticks and flies among the mummified dogs of El Deir. Such archaeological evidence could show how diseases originated throughout history, provide clues about the geographical spread of parasites, and reveal more about the relationship between parasites and both human and animal evolution.
Specialized lab equipment could yield even more findings from the infested dog mummy and its companions. The French team conducted most of its work on-site at El Deir and completed the examination with highly magnified photos at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris but hopes to eventually get permission to take some mummified samples back to the lab.
"The main problem will be to get the authorization to export mummified samples from Egypt for DNA analysis, since this country does not allow any exportation of archaeological material -- even tiny samples such as skin fragments and hairs," Huchet said.
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