Sometimes I do interviews with people who aren’t in the Paranormal field. Here is one of those with Egyptologist Dr. Salima Ikram. Interesting stuff, Hope some enjoy it.
Dr. Salima Ikram is a leading expert on animal mummies and as founder and co-director of the animal Mummy project at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo she combines an understanding of the past with a passion for preserving the future and has brought the little known world of animal mummies to light.
Dr. Ikram is also a professor of Egyptology at The American University in Cairo, a grantee of the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration as well as an international guest speaker.
A specialist in zooarchaeology, mummification, daily life in ancient Egypt, tomb decoration and ancient foods Dr. Ikram has been involved in various research projects throughout Egypt such as, The Theban Mapping Project along with a variety of books, being a consultant Egyptologist at Giza, Saqqara, Abu Sir, Valley of the Kings and her latest project, being Co-Director of the North Kharga Oasis Survey.
Saqqara : What new things are you working on in Egypt?
Salima Ikram: I have been working in Kharga Oasis and we have found evidence for human occupation dating to C. 20,000 BC if not earlier. We have campsites, places where tools were made, jewellery (ostrich egg beads in particular) production centers, and rock art. We also have evidence for activity in the remote areas of the Western Desert during the pharaonic period in the form of inscriptions and camp sites. Obviously there was more trade and exploration from the Southwestern sides of the country than one might have expected.
Also, in the Valley of the Kings I work with Otto Schaden at KV63, a ‘tomb’ that is really an embalming cache, and also with Donald Ryan on a group of tombs dating to the 18th dynasty. One of these tombs might have been the final resting place of Hatshepsut.
In Theban Tomb 11, under the direction of Jose Galan, I have been working on ibis mummies as well as those belonging to humans, and the team has found a new burial that dates to about 1950 BC.
SA: What new finds have been made at Giza, Saqqara, Abu Sir or the Valley of the Kings?
SI: See above. Also, Zahi Hawass and his team might have found a new tomb in the Valley of the Kings, although that is still to be determined.
At Saqqara, Guenter Dreyer is working on the tomb of Ninetjer, a king of the 2nd dynasty
there is much more, but you can get that from KMT’S Nile Currents
SA: What is the Animal Mummy Project, and what is its purpose?
SI: The Animal Mummy Project (AMP)’s goals were to scientifically study the animal mummies in The Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
We hope to study the mummies in order to find out about:
The clear identification of different mummified animals will also help answer some questions about ancient Egyptian religious beliefs. No one is sure whether the god Anubis’ (god of mummification) votive animal is a jackal, a dog, a wolf, or a fox. By X-raying his votive mummies, it will be possible to determine which animal the ancient Egyptians most closely identified with him. This would be relevant for other votive animals as well. The study will also allow for the identification of the ancient Egyptian names for animals with specific zoological species, thereby clearing up several linguistic and zoological queries
Additionally, the study will answer questions as to how the different animals were killed (if they were killed) before being mummified. At the British Museum, X-rays have revealed that some cats were killed by strangulation, and then prepared as mummies to be offered; at the Bubasteion at Saqqara some were strangled while others were killed by blows to the head. A complete study of the animal mummies in the Cairo Museum will reveal if these techniques were used for all small mammals and birds, or if a variety of techniques was used. It would be especially interesting to determine how the larger animals, such as crocodiles, were killed prior to mummification
From this study one will be able to determine the degree of domestication, or indeed its presence or absence, for some animals, such as. the sacred rams from Elephantine or canid mummies.
THE ENVIRONMENT AND EXTINCT SPECIES
Some animals that were mummified by the Egyptians are extinct in Egypt today. By studying these extinct animals we can tell what the environment of Egypt used to be like. We can also tell if animals were being traded from other countries into Egypt.
SA: In your book Divine Creatures, you discuss 4 different types of animal mummies: food and votive offerings, pets, and sacred animals. What is the difference and significance of each of these types?
SI: The most obvious type of animal mummy is that of beloved pets. From the Old Kingdom onward (2900-2100 BC) Egyptians are pictured in their tombs with their pets, thus ensuring their continued existence in the Afterlife. Occasionally the pets would have their names carved above them, providing further insurance of their continued existence. Some pet-lovers went so far as to bury their pets with them. A man called Hapy-min was buried with his pet dog curled up at his feet, very much like the medieval tomb carvings of Europe which featured the knight, his lady, and their respective hounds. (Djhutmose; Hapy min, Intef as illustrations).
A very curious type of mummy is the victual mummy. Victual mummies are joints of meat or entire birds that were wrapped up and presented as offerings to the deceased. These are most common in the New Kingdom. These joints or fowls were prepared for eating, being skinned, plucked and cut into managable joints.
Cult A special single animal that is chosen to represent the physical presence of a god; the Egyptians believed that the spirit of the god entered into the animal during its lifetime and after its death moved into the body of a similarly marked creature–a bit like what happens with the Dalai and other Lamas.
Votive: votive offerings of mummified animals, each one given to its particular deity (e.g. ibises to Thoth, cats to Bastet, etc) that are the equivalent of a candle burnt as a prayer in church, but more long lasting as these offering are eternal and help the devotee in life as well as in death.
SA: What was a daily meal in ancient Egypt like? Three meals a day or was there, like in modern Europe the main meal at lunchtime with snacks.
SI: The Egyptians definitely had 3 meals at least, with the main meal probably in the late afternoon for the wealthy, and earlier in the day for peasants. The breakfasts were more like our 11ses, with a late and large lunch, and a smaller dinner, for those who worked.
SA: Some people are against any sort of digging at archaeological sites, why is digging necessary and what does digging tell us about the past?
SI: Digging helps clarify what we know about the past. It is not always necessary, particularly with new ways of surveying, such as resistivity and magnetometry, but it helps prove or disprove hypotheses
SA: What was the number one finding in the Theban Mapping Project?
SI: Realising the size and architectural complexity of KV5
SA: What would the general public be surprised to know about death in ancient Egypt?
SI: Perhaps the details of mummification
SA: In the popular movie The Mummy, there is a scene where the evil priest Imhotep, who is in the process of coming back to life and making himself immortal, is faced with a live cat. He is deathly scared of this cat and runs from it. Is this scene just Hollywood, or is there some basis to truth that cats would have been both revered and feared in that manner in ancient Egypt, even by the gods?
SI: The Gods fear nothing. This is more a Hollywood moment, in fact
SA: One of your areas of expertise is animal mummies. In the season three Digging for the Truth episode about mummies, you and Josh explore a cache of animal mummies found buried in a royal tomb that contained animals of all description, even a bull. What was the significance of certain animals to the ancient Egyptians; i.e. were birds or cats or bulls particularly sacred as compared to other animals, or was any animal considered sacred or special?
SI: Each animal was associated with a specific deity. Not all animals were sacred–horses came into Egypt C. 1650 BC and thus do not form a part of the pantheon.
Canids (and hyenae) were associated with Anubis, cats with Bastet and Sekhmet, raptors with forms of Re and Horus, crocodiles with Sobek.
SA: Was this cache of mummies discussed in the show collected over time, such as a repository for favorite pets or sacred animals, or were most or all of those mummies prepared for one burial? Was it as long and careful a process to mummify an animal, as it was a human?
SI: Animal mummification took a different amount of time, practically, than a human, but for spiritual reasons 70 days was often the norm.
The burials were collected over time.
SA: What type of spells were cast on the mummies of ancient Egypt?
SI: Several prayers were read from funerary texts, including The Book of the Dead, to ensure that the deceased had a safe transit to the hereafter
SA: What are some of the difficulties in interpreting mummified remains of animals?
SI: Quality of preservation, whether or not one can unwrap or whether Xrays/CT scans are clear
SA: What kind of news is coming out of your Kharga Oasis Survey? And why is it so important to sift through the sands there?
SI: No one has really examined the areas that we are exploring and thus they a blank spot on the map of Ancient Egypt. We are filling in–or trying to–10,000 plus years of human history. Our discoveries are changing what we know about the ancient Egyptians’ exploration of the deserts and the Hinterlands as well as their trade and diplomatic relations with Sudan, Chad, and Libya
SA: What was it like working on ‘Digging For The Truth’ with Josh?
SI: Lots of fun. Josh is a sweetie and put a lot of thought into the show
SA: Are there any new finds at the step pyramid?
SI: They are working to consolidate it as the interior has been weakened by earthquakes over the millenia. Hopefully this work will mean that the pyramid is safe and can be visited inside
SA: Have you been able to explore in the tomb that was closed off due to instability?
SI: Only parts
SA: Are there any plans to stabilize that tomb so exploration can continue?
SI: See above
SA: The step pyramid, Saqqara, is credited as the first pyramid. Prior to that, people were buried in mastabas, mounds of mud and bricks.
SI: That were enclosed in walls giving them the shape of a trapezoidal house
SA: Was this something for everyone; i.e. royals and commoners alike?
SI: Yes, but only royals and elites
SA: Are there any mastabas left?
SA: Were mastabas placed randomly, or in specific places?
SI: Generally clustered around the Pharaoh, or at particular places at a certain distance from the king
SA: How did the process of mummification begin, and when did Egyptians start using it?
SI: Probably the Egyptians saw naturally preserved bodies and tried to improve on this. Early wrapping started as early as 3200 BC. Proper mummification with evisceration started about 2500 BC
SA: If time travel were ever invented but you could only go back to witness one event in Egyptian history, what would you choose to see and why?
SI: I would like to see the construction of the Bent Pyramid as I want to know exactly why its angle was changed, and also this is one of the earliest ‘true’ pyramids. Furthermore, I have always wanted to know if Snefru was as good a king as is recorded, and to see the environment of Egypt at that time