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Dog Catacomb reveals new view of Ancient Egypt’s religion

29 March 2011

An elaborate labyrinth of sacred tunnels, containing the mummified remains of millions of dogs, has been excavated under the Egyptian desert.

The Catacombs of Anubis project, led by Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University, is examining a labyrinth of tunnels beneath the desert at Saqqara in Egypt. The tunnels make up the catacomb for the burial of animals sacred to the dog or jackal-headed god Anubis.

The Dog Catacomb has been known since the 19th Century but has never been properly excavated before. The excavation team’s latest estimate is that some 8,000,000 animals – most of them dogs or jackals - were buried there. Work on the animal bones suggests that they were only hours or days old when they were killed and mummified. It is likely the dogs were bred in their thousands in special puppy farms around the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis.

Dr Paul Nicholson, of Cardiff University’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion, said: "Our findings indicate a rather different view of the relationship between people and the animals they worshipped than that normally associated with the ancient Egyptians, since many animals were killed and mummified when only a matter of hours or days old. These animals were not strictly ‘sacrificial’. Rather, the dedication of an animal mummy was regarded as a pious act, with the animal acting as intermediary between the donor and the gods."

The project has just won the Andante Travels Archaeological Award for 2011 for a work which has both archaeological significance and public appeal. Andante Travels is a British company specialising in archaeological tourism and the £2000 award will support further work, including radiocarbon dating of the construction phases of the catacomb.

The team is hoping that the geological work on the catacomb will help the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, who have generously permitted the work, in monitoring the site for its long term preservation.

The work has been funded in part by the School of History, Archaeology and Religion and by National Geographic.

For further information please contact:

Dr. Paul Nicholson,
Department of Archaeology,
School of History, Archaeology and Religion (SHARE),
Cardiff University
029 2087 4582

Stephen Rouse,
Public Relations Office,
Cardiff University.
029 2087 5596

Cardiff University
Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University President Professor Sir Martin Evans.
Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Three major new Research Institutes, offering radical new approaches to neurosciences and mental health, cancer stem cells and sustainable places were announced by the University in 2010.