“Sacred” baboons were fed poorly in captivity before being mummified by Ancient Egyptians, suggests new research.
Analysis of skeletal remains found a site known as the “Valley of the Monkeys” near the city of Thebes indicate that the primates were fed a poor diet and saw little sunlight, say scientists.
Study leader Dr. Wim Van Neer said: “Life was not easy for Egypt’s sacred baboons.
“Scientific study shows they suffered from malnutrition and lack of sunlight.”
He explained that for over a millennium, from the 9th Century BC to the 4th Century AD, ancient Egyptians venerated and mummified various animal species for religious purposes.
Dr. Van Neer, of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, said: “Included among these animals were baboons, notably species not native to ancient Egypt, and not much is known about how these animals were acquired and kept.”
For the new study, published in the journal PLOS One, the Belgian, French and German research team examined a collection of baboon mummies from the ancient Egyptian site of Gabbanat el-Qurud – the so-called “Valley of the Monkeys” – on the west bank of Luxor.
The team examined skeletal remains representing at least 36 individual baboons of varying ages, dated to between 800 and 500 BC.
Dr. Van Neer said: “Lesions, deformations, and other abnormalities on the bones indicate that most of the baboons suffered from poor nutrition and a lack of sunlight, most likely as a result of being born and raised in captivity.”
The research team noted that similar conditions are seen in baboon remains from two other sites of similar age, Saqqara and Tuna el-Gebel, suggesting a “fairly consistent mode” of captive keeping at all three sites.
Dr. Van Neer said: “These results provide insights into how baboons were kept and treated in Ancient Egypt before their eventual mummification, although more details remain to be explored.”
He said, for example, that further examination of the animals’ teeth could provide more data on the diets they were fed.
Dr. Van Neer added: “If it is possible to extract DNA from these remains, genetic data might reveal information on where the animals were caught in the wild and what breeding practices their keepers were employing.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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