AR-News: First Lion Mummy Found in Egyptian Tomb

jim robertson wolfcrest at
Wed Jan 14 20:40:39 EST 2004

First Lion Mummy Found in Egyptian Tomb
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By ALEX DOMINGUEZ, Associated Press Writer

For the first time, archaeologists have discovered a preserved lion skeleton 
in an ancient Egyptian tomb, demonstrating the exalted reputation enjoyed by 
the king of beasts more than 3,000 years ago.

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• Mummification (British Museum)

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A research team led by French archaeologist Alain Zivie found the lion's 
remains in 2001 as they excavated the tomb of Maia, wet nurse to 
Tutankhamun, or King Tut, the "boy king" popular with museum visitors today 
for his opulent gold funeral relics.

"It confirms the status of the lion as a sacred animal," Zivie reported in 
Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

Inscriptions in ancient Egypt mention the breeding and burial of lions, but 
no lion remains previously had been found, said Zivie, who is with the 
French Archaeological Mission of the Bubasteion.

The tombs associated with King Tut are situated in a burial ground south of 
Cairo, across the Nile River from Memphis, ancient Egypt's first capital. 
Zivie found Maia's elaborate tomb in 1996.

The complete and undisturbed lion skeleton was found in an area of the tomb 
dedicated to the cat goddess Bastet. The section also contained vast 
quantities of bones of humans and animals, including many cats.

The lion's bones were not wrapped in linen bandages familiar to human 
mummies. But the bones' position, along with their coloration and mineral 
deposits on their surface, are similar to those of other mummified cats 
discovered elsewhere at the burial ground.

Zivie said the worn condition of the bones and teeth suggest it lived to an 
old age and was kept in captivity. The lion is not believed to have belonged 
to Maia.

The lion may have been considered an incarnation of the god Mahes, the son 
of Bastet, Zivie said.

Hunters nearly exterminated regional lion populations by 1100 B.C. 
Commemorative artwork has been found telling of how the pharaoh Amenhotep 
III killed more than 100 lions during a single hunt. Ramses the Great had a 
pet lion named Slayer of his Foes.

An Egyptologist who did not work on the specimen said the discovery is an 
important addition to knowledge of ancient ritual.

Archaeologists previously have found vast cemeteries for baboons, ibis, 
fish, smaller cats, dogs and crocodiles. Mummifying a large animal like a 
lion would have been an expensive and elaborate task.

"This is not any old lion. It's an important lion," said Emily Teeter, an 
Egyptologist at the University of Chicago.

Other researchers said Zivie's report leaves several questions unanswered.

Robert Pickering, a forensic anthropologist with the Buffalo Bill Historical 
Center in Cody, Wyo., said the bones' discoloration is irrelevant because 
they would have been affected by the tomb's environment over thousands of 
years. The lack of linen wrapping and soft tissue preservation also does not 
support mummification, he said.

"It seems to be treated different from other animals that were entombed as 
part of ritual," Pickering said. "Maybe this lion's importance is as a 
family pet rather than as a representative of a god. The context doesn't 
seem to fit."

“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”    - 
Charles Darwin

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