Puppy Mills for the Gods

When I read an article like “Millions of Mummy Puppies Revealed at Egyptian Catacombs,” I realize how little we know about what was really going on with popular religion there centuries ago.

It’s one thing to study the tombs of high-ranking individuals. We still put high-ranking individuals in fancy tombs, and we make pilgrimages to them. I have stood teary-eyed just contemplating the tomb of Thomas Jefferson, for example.

But puppy mills for the gods?

They estimate the catacombs contain the remains of 8 million animals. Given the sheer numbers of animals, it is likely they were bred by the thousands in puppy farms around the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, according to the researchers. The Dog Catacombs are located at Saqqara, the burial ground for the ancient capital Memphis.

“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,” Nicholson said. “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.”

If that is not sacrifice — what is? Giving something to get something is part of what sacrifice is about, isn’t it?

Ancient Egyptian religion has this bureaucratic feeling to it—all of those catacombs and holes like post office boxes full of dead things. They even mummified cuts of meat for tomb offerings (go through the photo sequence). I wonder if about 80 percent of the country’s linen production went into wrapping up bodies to be put away.

(Meanwhile, in ancient Scotland, they were doing funny things with skeletons.)