In 1897, mining engineer and archaeologist Jacques de Morgan made a map of several catacombs at Anubis, North Saqqara, Egypt. On this map was the first modern reference to a Tomb de Chiens, or tomb of the dogs. The name was somewhat of an understatement, for when the catacombs were investigated later in 2015, it was estimated that they once contained 8 million dog mummies.
When the catacombs – built around 400 BCE – were explored, the main passageway stretched 173 meters (568 feet), with several corridors branching off from it up to 140 meters (459 feet). Ninety percent of the remains uncovered by the team were found to be dogs, though they also found jackals, cats, mongooses, and foxes.
The animals, many of which were taken by grave robbers and used as fertilizer by industrialists, would have been given as as offerings to a god. In the case of the Dog Catacombs, the gifts were likely for jackal-headed Egyptian deity Anubis, in the hope of favor or good fortune, or as thanks.
“Each mummy would be a symbol of something a pilgrim had given as a gift to the god. So nowadays, people go to a church and light a candle,” archaeologist and Egyptologist Salima Ikram explained to NPR in 2015.
“But the Egyptians were in for the long haul, so instead of a candle, they would offer a mummy. So clearly, this means that there were a lot of very religious people out there who were asking Anubis for intercession and for help for a variety of things.”
Adding extra ick to a story of dog sacrifice, the team believes that the animals were obtained for the purposes of sacrifice.
“The most likely scenario is that there were a series of puppy-farms located nearby, probably in Memphis and its environs,” they write in their paper, “from which most of the animals were sourced”.
Given the lack of written evidence, it’s not known how the dogs ended up buried at the catacombs – whether pilgrims arrived at the temple and made a payment for a dog to be sacrificed and buried as an offering, or whether they had to purchase the dogs before arrival at the temple.
“Its life may have been extremely short but its journey to the afterlife was to be a good one and the afterlife was forever,” the team adds. “The animal cults cannot be viewed with twenty-first century sensibilities.”
The study was published in the journal Antiquity in 2015.
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