Ancient Egypt, found at Abydos, Late Period, ca. 712 to 300 BCE. An incredibly-preserved bundle containing the body of a mummified sacred ibis. The bird's body is folded into a crouch and wrapped tightly in woven textiles, most of which remain. The bundle is accompanied by a framed X-ray showing the crouched and preserved body of the bird within it. The mummy may have once had a bronze head attached to its front, which was common practice for these ibis mummies. This example that clearly contains the actual body of the bird is rarer than you may assume - recent research suggests that up to a third of Egyptian animal mummy bundles only contain partial animals or are even just bundled cloth, made by ancient embalmers to sell to gullible pilgrims. Size of bundle: 15" W (38.1 cm)
The ibis, an elegant, long-legged wading bird that lives along the shores of the Nile, was associated with the god Thoth and, later, the sage Imhotep. He was the god of wisdom and writing, and in worship to him ibises were ritually sacrificed, embalmed, and mummified before being buried in underground galleries. CT-scans on some of these mummies has revealed that many were fed posthumously. Their stomachs were removed during the mummification process, and, via an incision, a small parcel of food - mainly snails - was inserted into them before they were carefully replaced in the bird's chest cavity. As shocking as it may seem, there were millions of these burials, many of which have been excavated at Saqqara, near Memphis, Egypt's ancient capital. Others, like this one, were found at Abydos, one of Egypt's oldest cities, where many pharaohs were entombed. Especially during the Late Period, the Egyptians seem to have been obsessed with ibis (and other animal) mummies, which, in the case of ibises, were used to gain Thoth's favor. A pious individual would go to the temple, pay a priest to intercede with Thoth for them, and the priest would mummify an ibis.
Provenance: ex-private Harrison collection, Hannibal, Missouri, USA; ex-MacMurray College collection, Jacksonville, Illinois, USA, given to the college by Dr. Wallace N. Stearns from his collection, Egyptian Exploration Society around 1910
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Item is an ancient bundle and a modern X-ray, framed. The textile around the bundle is in nice condition, with a few small holes, staining and slight unraveling as shown. Old handwritten label reading "Abydos" is on it.