Does exhuming mummified pets break their immortal journey in the afterlife?

ANALYSIS: Exhuming ancient Egyptian coffins and mummies is disrespectful. It is desecrating old burial grounds. Today, splashed all over the online news media is the story that Egyptian experts have unearthed 13 sealed wooden coffins in the desert necropolis of Saqqara. They’ve been there buried deep underground in the sand for two and half thousand years and the excitement is palpable. The archaeologists are jumping around all over the place in eager joy at their find but there is a complete disregard for the fact that they are digging up the bodies of people who were carefully buried and whose bodies were intended to lay in rest for eternity. To be immortal in the afterlife.

2,500 year old coffins exhumed in Egypt recently
2,500 year old coffins exhumed in Egypt recently. Credits: Xinhua/REX
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In the UK, you have to apply for a licence to exhume human remains. And of course it can be traumatic if relatives are alive. I don’t know what the law is in Egypt currently regarding the exhumation of human remains but clearly they do not apply to remains that are 2,500 years old.

My personal view is that they should all be left alone and this attitude applies to animals as well. There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of mummies of cats and other animals buried in Egypt. They are constantly being dug up and examined with great fascination by so-called experts. The whole process is highly disrespectful as far as I’m concerned.

The abuse of these cats is extraordinary. They were killed as offerings to the gods to appease the gods and to seek favours. In fact they were bred to be killed as offerings. And then after two and half thousand years they are dug up and examined by modern humans. I don’t think you can go further in the abuse of an animal than that.

It was commonplace in ancient Egypt to bury pets with their owners. These were often cats and dogs but they included baboons, monkeys and gazelles, fish and beetles. I’m sure that the cats and dogs were beloved who were pets buried with their owner to keep them company in the afterlife.

Cat mummies
Cat mummies. Photo: Getty images.

Cats and dogs and other animals were mummified for four main reasons: to allow them to go to the afterlife, to provide food in the afterlife, to act as offerings to a particular God and because some were seen as physical manifestations of specific deities that the Egyptians worshipped.

In 1888 an Egyptian farmer digging in the sand discovered a mass grave of cats that were mummified and buried in pits in great numbers. No doubt they were all dug up and turned into fertiliser. That’s the kind of disrespectful behaviour we appear to have got ourselves into but we don’t see it that way. The attitude is that it is interesting to see how the ancient Egyptians lived and the experts brush aside the ethical aspects of exhuming the mummified bodies of people and their pets. I disagree with it strongly.

I wonder what ancient Egyptians would think about the exhumation of their remains in 2020. Ancient Egyptians believed that mummification was imperative in order to gain admittance to the afterlife. It would gain immortality for their beloved companion animals. Do these animals still have immortality after they had been so disrespectfully dug up by eager and excited archaeologists?

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