Archaeologists in 2004 announced that they had
uncovered the first example of a lion mummified by the ancient
Egyptians, in the tomb of the woman who helped rear the Pharaoh
Although the breeding and burial of lions as
sacred animals in Egypt is mentioned by ancient sources, to date
no one had found a mummified specimen. The male lion was amongst
the largest known to science and its bones showed that it lived
to an old age in captivity.
Details of the discovery were published in the
scientific journal Nature. The lion was found in a tomb at Saqqara
in northern Egypt which belonged to Maia, wet nurse to Tutankhamun,
who was buried about 1430 BC
However, in the last centuries BC, the tomb was
re-used for the burial of humans and then animals - mostly mummified
cats. French archaeologists Alain Zivie, Cecile Callou, and Anaick
Samzun unearthed the remains of the big cat in November 2001. It
comprised the virtually complete skeleton of a lion (Panthera
leo) which was once mummified.
Bred for mummification
Analysis of the teeth, particularly the wear on them,
showed that the lion lived to be very old and must have been kept in
captivity. Alan Lloyd, professor of classics and ancient history at
the University of Wales, Swansea, pointed out the fact that the lion
was a creature that had a long association with the ruler of Egypt.
The pharaoh was thought of as a lion and as having the
qualities of a lion. The qualities the Egyptians were interested in,
of course, were martial. In the last few centuries BC, Egypt was
being invades by waves of outsiders, from Persia, Nubia (which today
comprises parts of Sudan and Egypt), and Greece.
The surge of interest in animal cults may be the ancient
Egyptians' way of asserting their identity in the presence of these
newcomers. This should be regarded as an expression of Egyptian
nationalism, according to Professor Lloyd. In addition to cats, the
Egyptians also mummified dogs, birds, snakes, and monkeys.