New research has revealed that a significant number of dogs were mummified as offerings to an ancient Egyptian god.

A group of researchers led by Cardiff University archaeology professor Paul Nicholson studied the 8 million dog mummies at the catacombs near the sacred temple of Anubis in Saqqara, Egypt. Anubis was worshipped by the Egyptians as the god of death and is thought to have the head of a jackal.

Nicholson and his team are the first to analyze the dog catacombs.

Back in 1897, French archaeologist Jacques de Morgan published a paper on the necropolis in Memphis. He and other researchers, however, did not spend much time studying the dog catacombs. He even drew a map showing two dog catacombs; one of which, in 1992, became inaccessible due to drifting sands and an earthquake. The other, larger catacombs were the subject of Nicholson's study. They looked at walls and mummified remains.

The fossil of a 48-million-year-old sea monster was also found at the ceiling of the catacombs. However, there is no accurate data that confirms whether or not the marine vertebrate was noticed when the Egyptians built the tomb.

Nicholson's team says that the ancient Egyptians built the sacred temple and catacombs in reverence to Anubis. The archaeologists also discovered that, along with the dog ummies, buried in the catacombs were remains of other animals, such as the ibis, hawk, baboon and bull. Ancient Egyptians worshipped the animal gods.

In the case of dogs, puppies were most probably separated from their mothers and would have died from dehydration or starvation. Nicholson says they do not have any evidence of broken necks, like those in cat burials. The dogs would not have been killed by such action.

As for the other animals also buried in the dog catacombs, the researchers say it is likely because "doglike" creatures were interchangeable. Mythological reasons would also have played a role in the "choice of cats and raptors," as explained in their findings published in the journal Antiquity.

"When you go to Saqqara now, you see an area of attractive desert with the pyramids sticking up and one or two of the prominent monuments associated with animal cults," said Nicholson.

"During the Late Period, if one were to visit Saqqara, they would have seen temples, merchants selling statues of bronze deities, priests conducting ceremonies, people offering to interpret dreams and tour guides jostling for business," he added.

Animal breeders then likely raised dogs and other creatures that would later be mummified in honor of the gods. Nicholson also saw Saqqara, as supported by animal cults, to have been a bustling place.

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