SAQQARA, Egypt, June 20 (UPI) — Anubis, the jackal-headed Egyptian god of the afterlife, was once so revered that the catacombs near his temple held nearly eight million mummified dogs, a new study found.
Researchers said many of the mummies have since disintegrated, been used for fertilizer or have been disturbed by grave robbers, but there is enough evidence to suggest the Anubis animal cult was a large part of ancient Egypt life from about 747 to 30 B.C.
“We’re very pleased and somewhat surprised by the results,” the project’s director Paul Nicholson from Cardiff University’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion said Saturday. “We hadn’t expected that there would be so many animals, and it opens up a new series of questions.”
The temple and catacomb, located near Saqqara, one of Egypt’s most historic and visited sites, date back the 4th century B.C. Other mummified animal remains, including foxes, cats, falcons and mongoose, were also found, suggesting other animal gods were worshiped. Nicholson said Saqqara was once a bustling community with merchants selling bronze deity statues, priests conducting ceremonies and breeders raising dogs and other animals to be mummified in honor of the gods.
“It would have been a busy place,” Nicholson told Live Science. “A permanent community of people living there supported by the animal cults.”
In exploring the catacombs, which measures 568 feet down a center passageway, researchers also found a fossil of a long-extinct marine vertebrate.
“The ancient [Egyptian] quarry men may have been aware of it, or they may have gone straight through it, it’s hard to know,” Nicholson said.