A landfall in the ancient Egyptian city of Abydos has unearthed a cemetery of animal mummies that archaeologists hope could give clues to new religious cults in the Ptolemaic period, officials said Tuesday.
Eight tiny gold-plated limestone coffins containing what are thought to be mummified rats dating back to 300 B.C. have already been removed from the site, the region's antiquities chief Yahya al-Masri told AFP.
A team of Egyptian archaeologists has also found six large pottery jars, each with the preserved bodies of 25 falcons inside, he said.
The ancient Egyptians, who mummified a wide range of animals from cats to crocodiles, believed that rats ate the hearts of sinners on judgement day, while falcons represent the god Horus, son of Osiris and Isis.
Animal mummy expert Selima Ikram, a professor at the American University in Cairo, said the find was particularly exciting as other animal cemeteries previously found in Abydos had been "dug up and trashed."
"It might point to variations in religion in the Ptolemaic period including new kinds of cults," Ikram told AFP. "It will be potentially very interesting to excavate using modern methods."
The newly-discovered cemetery was excavated after a landfall in the Wadi region of Abydos, located near the Nile around 550 kilometers (350 miles) south of Cairo, pointed to the possibility of a burial ground, Culture Minister Faruq Hosni said.
The holy necropolis of Abydos, site of the tomb of the ancient Egyptian god of the dead, Osiris, was a pilgrimage center in ancient times and some of its artifacts date back further than 2000 B.C. -- CAIRO (AFP)
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