Since this heat wave we are currently having is nothing short of Egyptian summer like I thought for this weeks Find it Friday I would show you an item from our Egyptology collection.
Horus, ‘the one of above’, was one of the oldest and most significant of the Egyptian gods. He was the Sky God, the God of the sun, war and protection, and even addressed as the king of the Gods. There are various tellings of his story and various adaptations of Horus himself. Typically he is depicted as a falcon headed man wearing a double crown of upper and lower Egypt. Later in Egyptian mythology Horus was merged with the sun God Ra, becoming Ra-Horakhty, depicted not unlike Horus, a falcon headed man but wearing a sun disk on his head, rather than a crown.
Montu, the God of war is also shown in falcon form, but has the head of a bull when enraged. The cemetery God Soker is also depicted in falcon, or hawk form, but is often shown mummified from the neck down, which brings us nicely to this weeks object…
This is a mummified falcon from our collection here at the curatorial services. It is part of a small Egyptian mummy collection that our stores contain, holding two mummified cat heads, two mummified human hands and this bird.
This falcon was most likely mummified as a sacrifice or offering to Horus, although the Ancient Egyptians mummified various animals for various reasons; as an offering or to be worshiped as animals often represented a god, as food to be placed within the tomb for the deceased person during their journey or simply because the animal was a loved pet and the owner wanted to take them with them into the Afterlife.
Literally thousands of mummified falcons have been unearthed and their quality and appearance differs quite drastically. Other examples show the birds shape quite obviously with the beak and eyes highlighted with a darker colour. Our falcon is very plain, in this respect and bandage wise. The bandages the bird is wrapped in are linen treated with a form of resin or beeswax; exactly the same way human bodies would be mummified.
On others found the bandages are wrapped in a way creating a criss-cross pattern, or are decorated with bright colours and spells, but again, this one is extremely bare. It is thought the more decorative and elaborate the outside is the more chance that there is not actually an animal inside but nothing more than mud and sticks, making it a fake.
These birds were offered to Horus with the hope he would protect them and heal them from disease, so as you can imagine, once the word got out, these falcon mummies were in hot demand. It is difficult to breed or capture falcons, unlike cats, which were often bred with the intention of being mummified to be worshiped, and demand got so high that other birds of similar size were used and claimed to be falcons. ‘False mummies’ are not rare at all, when other animals could not be used, a few bones or feathers could be used or even just mud. It is unknown if these are quite decorative to represent the animals they claim to be to the Gods or if they were made to look impressive so that people would buy them believing they were authentic inside.
The trade around breeding and selling mummified animals became such a thriving business that it’s not a shock that people would take advantage of the demand and of people’s beliefs.
It is unlikely our falcon is a fake due to its outer appearance and an additional tell-tale clue.
Unfortunately the quality of this item is quite low, the bandages are tearing, ripped in places and deteriorating. There is a notable hole on the ‘face’ of the bird where the bandage has ripped away and this has resulted in the bird’s beak being broken off. Inside the hole the characteristic semi hollow quality of bird skeletons is visible where the end of the beak was once connected. There is definitely a bird in there!!
The Egyptians mummified most animals from birds to dogs, from bulls to insects. The Egyptian Museum in Cairo even has a mummified crocodile that was buried carrying its mummified babies in its mouth!