The Saqqara Dog Catacombs
In 1897 the great French Egyptologist Jacques De Morgan (1857-1924) published his Carte of the Memphite necropolis, the area around the first of Egypt’s pyramids. His map featured two catacombs described as being for “dogs” but who had first discovered them, who had actually carried out the mapping and whether they really were for dogs has remained something of a mystery.
The proximity of the catacombs to the nearby temple of Anubis, the so called jackal or dog-headed deity associated with cemeteries and embalming makes it likely that these catacombs are indeed for canines and their presence at Saqqara is to be explained by the concentration of other animal cuts at the site. These other cults include the burials of, and temples for, bulls, cows, baboons, ibises, hawks and cats all of which were thought to act as intermediaries between humans an their gods (see Sacred Animal Necropolis). The cults were particularly prominent during the period extending from the Late Period into the early Roman Period (747 B.C. – 1st Century A.D.).
Despite the great quantity of animals buried in these catacombs and the immense size of the underground burial places Egyptologists have traditionally focussed on the temples and on inscriptional evidence rather than on the animals themselves and their places of burial.
A joint Egypt Exploration Society and Cardiff University project begun in 2009 is attempting to learn more about the archaeological and research history of the site. Results from the first season of work have been promising – it has been shown that the De Morgan map has substantial inaccuracies and a new survey is under way. The animal bones themselves have been sampled and preliminary results suggest that as well as actual dogs there may be other canids present. Furthermore the age profile of the animals is being examined so that patterns of mortality can be ascertained.
The project is also examining the cutting of the catacombs and producing a detailed photographic record of the site.