A team of archaeologists in Hierakonpolis have unearthed an ancient Egyptian animal cemetery, which has uncovered the remains of numerous exotic animals. The skeletal remains of numerous baboons, hippos, and other animals, have depicted a dark past for these companions of the ancient Egyptian elite.
The skeletal remains of the pets, thought to have been buried more than five thousand years ago, revealed numerous broken bones and fractures, which points to them having received harsh beatings. At least two of the baboon skeletons that were discovered had parry fractures, a common fracture of the ulna, caused when a victim is trying to shield their heads from damaging bones.
The skeletal remains of a hippo calf showed evidence of a broken leg, which is thought to have been caused from the animal trying to free itself from a tether. This isn’t the only tether related injury that was discovered at the site; an antelope and a cow also showed similar injuries. The excavations at the Hierakonpolis site also revealed the remains of two elephants, two crocodiles, a leopard, and nine other exotic species. It is thought that the burial ground near to the Nile is the only archaeological evidence of such a wide assortment of zoo animals within ancient Egypt.
Wim Van Neer, a zooarchaeologist from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, noted that the ancient zookeepers “clearly had difficulty maintaining these animals”. The analysis of the skeletal remains showed that “the practical means of keeping animals in captivity were not so sophisticated as nowadays,” which would account for the numerous injuries sustained by the animals. The animals’ injuries showed signs of healing, which suggests that they were kept in captivity for a further several weeks or longer, rather than being killed immediately after obtaining them.
It is argued by Richard Redding, an archaeologist of the University of Michigan’s Kelsey Museum, that the animals’ struggle whilst being captured could have led to the injuries. Van Neer agrees that some of the injuries could have been caused by the struggle, but the forty-plus broken hand and feet bones observed on the baboon remains are just “too numerous to be due to capture”. Van Neer also pointed out that an escaping baboon would have been more likely to break the long bones rather than the metatarsals and metacarpals, whilst escaping the capturers. It is also stated that the baboon remains from more recent tombs display fewer signs of harsh treatment, which may be due to the ancient zookeepers developing better animal keeping techniques.
Van Neer, W. 2015. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 25:3. Pg 253-374.
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