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Kestrel Mummy Hints at Raptor Breeding in Ancient Egypt

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Author Topic: Kestrel Mummy Hints at Raptor Breeding in Ancient Egypt  (Read 280 times)
Krystal Coenen
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« on: September 05, 2015, 08:14:53 pm »

Kestrel Mummy Hints at Raptor Breeding in Ancient Egypt
Sep 3, 2015 04:25 PM ET // by Richard Farrell
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A bird mummy has given researchers a glimpse into possible raptor breeding by ancient Egyptians.

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The last meal of a mummified kestrel has much to tell scientists about how the ancient Egyptians handled raptors, and why so many mummies of the birds of prey have been found.

So suggests a study just published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, which presents 3D imaging evidence and analysis of a European kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) mummy.

Researchers from the American University in Cairo, Stellenbosch University and the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies say the bird died from being forced to eat too much: Its stomach contained evidence of a house mouse on which the bird had likely choked to death.

The raptor also appeared to have eaten another mouse on the same day, and parts of a small sparrow were also found. And, the scientists wrote, "there is no indication that it was deliberately killed as there is no clear separation of, or broken, vertebrae."
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The researchers say the evidence of such force feeding points to a raptor breeding program, one that gave the Egyptians a steady supply of the animals to offer up to the sun god Re, with which raptors were closely identified in ancient Egypt

"The idea of birds of prey being bred to the extent of being kept and force-fed is new," said Salima Ikram, in a press release.

"Until now," said Ikram, professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo and lead author of the study, "the sheer number of raptor mummies had been a mystery. Did they catch or trap them and kill them, raid nests, or find them dead? Our results explain why they had so many: We now think it was because of active breeding."
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What isn't new is the idea of animal mummies. They were commonly used in religious ceremonies from around 600 B.C. to 250 A.D., the researchers write, and many such offerings have been recovered.

Egyptians typically gutted ceremonial animals prior to mummification, but this bird, supplied by South Africa's Iziko Museums, had not received that treatment. That left its last meal available for examination.

"When we saw how much the kestrel ate and how it choked, we suddenly had an idea about how the ancient Egyptians managed to mummify so many raptor and the implications about wild animal husbandry and the possibility of falconry being practiced in ancient Egypt," said Ikram.

"We know raptors were religiously important but itís interesting to think about the role they may have had in falconry," she added. "Itís also interesting that Egyptians were exerting so much thought and control over nature and that their aptitude with wild animals is considerable."
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