Mummy of a Baboon

This baboon mummy is seated with its knees drawn up to its chest, and its tail curving around the right side of its body. Excavated by Mr. Theodore M. Davis in 1906 from Tomb (KV51) near the Tomb of Amenhotep II (KV35).

The monkey appears to have been mummified through an enlarged cut in the anal area rather than evisceration through enema; radiographs show that a series of large packets that appear to contain soil were inserted into the animal’s torso to help hold its original shape. Traces of resin, natron, and exterior bandages are still visible on the animal.

Mummy of a baboon. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 38747; CG 29837
Mummy of a baboon. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 38747; CG 29837

Although isolated cases of domestic animals mummified by their masters are known, perhaps to keep them at their side in the afterlife, most animal mummies had a votive function.

Pilgrims visiting the temples offered to the deities mummified animals associated with them (Thoth/ibis or baboons, Bastet cats, Anubis/dogs, Sobek/crocodiles, Horus/hawks, etc.). Animal mummies would often be buried in necropolises specifically dedicated to them.

Recently, vast necropolises of mummified animals have been discovered. Tomographic scans offer new opportunities to study the methods used to embalm and preserve these relics, as well as provide important information for forming a map of Egyptian fauna.

The sacred baboon (Papio hamadryas) was a recurring motif in ancient Egyptian art and religion, from Predynastic statuettes to later mortuary traditions, including wall paintings, reliefs, amulets, and statues—a tradition exceeding 3000 years.

Mummy of a Baboon
Mummy of a Baboon. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 38747; CG 29837

In most cases, P. hamadryas was the embodiment of Thoth, a deity associated with the moon and wisdom. It is a rare example of apotheosis among nonhuman primates.

The archetype of this manifestation—a male baboon in a seated posture, hands on knees, and often surmounted with a lunar disc or crescent—was strikingly consistent for millennia.

Figurines of seated baboons even spread into the Levant and across the Mediterranean during the Middle Bronze Age, but the biological realism diminished with increasing distance from Egypt, becoming symbolic renderings rather than species-specific representations.

Such a pattern invites two complementary interpretations: first, that ancient Egyptian artists were concerned with species-level realism and second, that they were themselves witness to the plants and animals in their works.

Accordingly, some ecologists have viewed the artistic record of Egypt as a biological survey and used it to assess ecosystem stability through time.

Mummified monkeys found at the tomb of Amenhotep II, 1909
Mummified monkeys found at the tomb of Amenhotep II, 1909

From Tomb (KV51), Valley of the Kings, West Thebes. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 38747; CG 29837