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Tuesday, 2 January, 2001, 21:17 GMT
Ancient Egyptian animal cemetery found
Ancient Egyptian animal coffins
The coffins were decorated with gilded reliefs
Archaeologists have discovered a late Pharaonic-era animal cemetery which experts believe could cast new light on the religious beliefs of ancient Egyptians.

The secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, Dr Gaballah Ali Gaballah, said the cemetery contained mummified falcons and rodents.

The burial area was found near the sacred city called Abydos in the south of the country, about 550 kilometres (350 miles) from Cairo. The settlement's vast complex of tombs and temples was seen by ancient Egyptians as the gateway to the underworld.

The latest finds were made when ground subsided in an area known as El-Wadi, revealing large pottery jars containing more than 25 mummified falcons.

Sacred animals

Archaeologists also found eight small limestone coffins. Inside these lay the mummified remains of rodents - probably rats - about 10cm long. The remains are thought to date back to 300 BC.

The coffins were decorated with the gilded reliefs of the animals. Other mummies were found in tiny wooden coffins painted red and blue.

A leading expert on animal mummies, Salima Ikram, said the find was particularly exciting as other animal cemeteries previously discovered at Abydos had been "dug up and trashed".

"It might point to variations in religion in the Ptolemaic period, including new kinds of cults. It will be potentially very interesting to excavate using modern methods."

Further work

The ancient Egyptians mummified a wide range of animals from baboons to beetles, either because they were favourite pets or because they were sacred.

It was believed that rats ate the hearts of sinners on judgement day, while falcons represented the god Horus, son of Osiris and Isis.

Dr Gaballah said further work would now be done at El-Wadi to see what else might be buried there.

The holy necropolis of Abydos, site of the tomb of the ancient Egyptian god of the dead, Osiris, was a pilgrimage centre in ancient times and some of its artefacts date back further than 2000 BC.

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