mummified dogs
© Toronto StarDogs were "One of the few animals which received burial in a niche," says Dr. Paul Nicholson. An estimated 8 million mummiified dogs, many of them puppies, have been found in catacombs in Egypt.
About 8 million mummified dogs lie in the ancient Dog Catacombs in Egypt, a team of archaeologists reveals.

"We weren't expecting such a high estimate," Dr. Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University told the Star on Monday. "That was something of a surprise."

Many of the animals appear to be puppies, bred at farms nearby entirely for mummification.

"This isn't some cruel, bloodthirsty mass ritual sacrifice," explained Nicholson. "This would have been a pious act. Pilgrims would have paid for the correct mummification. They were Egyptians doing a good deed. The dogs would have served as their representative to the deity."

The deity would have been Anubis, the jackal-headed god. Indeed, some of the mummies in the Dog Catacombs belonged to jackals or foxes.

Almost all are dogs, though, in the decayed remains of bandages and excavated from 50 dark corridors running through the labyrinth.

And while many appear to be just a few months old, others had spent their full natural lives as sacred animals in the nearby Temple to Anubis before being interred.

"The point to get over is that this is not just a hundred years. This covers a span of centuries" from the Late and Ptolemiac Periods of 747 to 30 B.C.

Discovered in 1897 by the French Egyptologist Jacques De Morgan as part of the necropolis of Saqqara in Memphis, "virtually nothing" has been known about the Dog Catacombs before Nicholson's work.

The goal of the Cardiff University-Egypt Exploration Society Mission to the Dog Catacombs, of which Nicholson is director, is to glean as much information as possible while disturbing the remains as little as possible.

They work in only one of two dog catacombs; the other is inaccessible.

The 8 million estimate, which he figures is quite close, is a product of counting the mummies in one area and multiplying. Further research will help determine the mummies' ages, sex and species - "what sort of dogs they were. Not breeds, which is a modern concept."

Radio carbon dating will help establish the catacombs' span of time and allow archaeologists to estimate how often the dogs would have been mummified as offerings to Anubis.