Baboons were trained in Ancient Egypt to catch criminals

Baboons were trained in Ancient Egypt to catch criminals. Detail from the Mastaba of Tepemankh, Saqqara necropolis. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 37101

The most surprising use for trained baboons was as police animals. Hieroglyphs and artwork have survived the ages depicting Egyptian authorities using baboons on leashes to apprehend criminals, in much the way modern police would use a dog. One shocking bit of classical Egyptian artwork depicts authorities unleashing a baboon on a thief in a marketplace, and the criminal begging them to call the animal off as it bites his leg.

Scenes of daily life on tomb walls recalled the life of the deceased in this world. This part of the low-relief of Tepemankh is an example. A nude man is grasped round the legs by a large baboon. He is trying to keep the baboon away with his left arm. A second man is behind them. He is wearing a short kilt and holding a whip with one hand. On his other hand he leads a female baboon who is carrying a baby. There are still traces of color.

Old Kingdom, 5th Dynasty, ca. 2498-2345 BC. Detail from the Mastaba of Tepemankh, Saqqara necropolis. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 37101

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