Animal mummies discovered in Egypt

animal mummiesA cache of animal mummies is among the finds from a recent excavation in Egypt.

The discovery was made by a University of Toronto team last summer at Abydos and was announced at a recent meeting. Abydos was the first burial ground for the pharaohs and remained a holy place throughout the history of ancient Egypt. The tomb of Osiris, king of underworld, was believed to be there.

Because of this, Egyptians wanted to be buried there too and numerous tombs have been found at the site. The Canadian team found a mysterious building that contained a pile of animal mummies. These animals could have served various purposes. Usually they were offerings to the gods, but they could also act as food for the afterlife or even post-mortem pets.

Many of the deities of Egypt had animal heads and aspects, and animals that were mummified as offerings were of the same species as the associated god. Hawks were dedicated to Horus, ibises to Thoth, cats to Sekhmet, etc.

Most of the 83 animal mummies found in Abydos in the latest field season were dogs, and may have been offerings to Wepwawet, a wolf-headed god associated with Osiris. Wepwawet was a war god and an “opener of the ways” who protected the dead on their journey into the underworld. The team also uncovered mummified sheep, goats, and two cats.

The function of the building where these mummies were found is unclear, although it may have been a temple. It’s not known exactly when it was built either. A few inscriptions at the site refer to Seti I, who ruled from 1290–1279 BC. The team also found a wooden statue that may represent Hatshepsut, a female pharaoh who ruled from 1479–1458 BC, and two tombs. One of them tombs has yet to be opened.

Animal mummies are common finds throughout Egypt. Everything from shrews to catfish to bulls were dipped in preservatives and wrapped in linen. Some were given elaborate sarcophagi, like the gilded one shown in the photo gallery. Others mummies were fakes. There was a big market for animal mummies as they were a popular sacrifice. Thus unscrupulous priests would often create mummies that contained only a few bones or feathers of the animal, or sometimes no animal parts at all.

Any museum with a good Egyptian collection will have at least some animal mummies. Museums that I’ve seen that have especially large collections include the British Museum (London), the National Museum (Cairo), the Louvre (Paris), the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto), the Ashmolean (Oxford), and the Met (New York). Have you seen a good collection of these pickled pets? Tell us about it in the comments section!

Photo of cat mummy in the Louvre, Paris, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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Travel meets journalism at Roads and Kingdoms

travel journalismLast month, writers Nathan Thornburgh (a contributing editor to TIME and recent guest of Fox News) and Matt Goulding (food & culture writer and author behind the Eat This, Not That! book series) launched a new website with the intriguing tagline: “Journalism, travel, food, murder, music. First stop: Burma.” Combining on-the-spot reporting on current events and politics with in-depth cultural observations, rich photography, and engrossing narratives, Roads and Kingdoms feels like a travel blog we all want to write: a bit daring, occasionally foolhardy, and often inspiring. Fresh home from their first major trip and recovering from Burma belly, Gadling talked to co-founder Nathan about Roads and Kingdoms.

How would you describe your blog in one sentence?
Travel meets journalism.

How did it come about? How has your background in news helped (or hindered) your travels?
Matt and I felt like our work – he writes about food, I’m a foreign correspondent – actually had a lot in common. As writers on assignment, we found that the best parts of being on the road – the amazing meal on the street corner, the back-alley bar with the great live jams, the sweaty tuk tuk ride through the outskirts of the city – are left out of the final product. It’s those parts that we want to provide a home for. It’s a different kind of travel mindset, whether you’re going to London or Lagos. Journalism is all about being curious, which is a quality great travelers have as well.

It’s not meant to remain a blog: we’ll be launching our full site soon, which won’t just be our travels, but a variety of dispatches in the Roads and Kingdoms style, from writers and photographers and videographers around the world.
Why did you choose Burma as a first destination?
First off, we think Burma is going to be a huge tourist destination in the years to come, if the country continues to open up. It’s an amazingly vivid and warm country, and has a lot of the traditional rhythms of life that Thailand, for example, has lost.

Burma also had the perfect combination of stories for us to launch Roads and Kingdoms with. We were able to report on the killer hiphop scene in the south, up-and-coming graffiti artists in Rangoon, and of course, the amazing (and all but undiscovered) Burmese cuisine. Then Matt went to Bagan, this breathtaking valley of temples that will become a big part of Burma’s tourist boom. While he took in the temples, I visited the heart of the war-torn north, where I was able to hang out with gold miners and Kachin refugees and see a part of Burma that not a lot of people get to see.

What do you hope to inspire in readers?
We’d love to inspire readers to travel the way we do: with a sense of wonder and a big appetite, with curiosity and an awareness of the backstory behind the destinations.

Flashback, Burma Day One: Bad Crab from Roads and Kingdoms on Vimeo.

Roads and Kingdoms did not get detained in Myanmar for being journalists entering on a tourist visa. But Nathan still hit an unexpected roadblock on the first day in Burma: a plate of chili-slathered, rancid crab.

What are the challenges in blogging somewhere like Burma?

We were fortunate that our trip coincided with Hillary Clinton’s historic visit to Burma. The government didn’t want to create any problems that week, so we were incredibly free as journalists there; much more so than I could have ever imagined the first time I went in 2003. I was followed and watched when I visited the north, but they didn’t interfere with my work. However: Internet access still sucks. You can’t blog if you can’t connect, and that’s a huge problem in Burma.

How is social media adding to the blog?
Social media is huge for us. We’re starting out as a Tumblr, for example, not just because it’s great for articles/photos/videos, but because it’s so shareable. We want people to get involved, not just as passive consumers, but as advisers and compañeros along the way.

Where are you going next?
We have a short list, and we actually want readers to help us decide. London? Moscow? Lima? It’s a big world out there!

Follow the adventures at RoadsandKingdoms.com and connect with Nathan and Matt (and assorted interns) on Twitter @RoadsKingdoms and Facebook.

U.S. expresses concern over proposed Serengeti Highway

The Obama Administration questions a proposed Serengeti Highway. The U.S. government has expressed concern over a proposed new highway that would pass through the Serengeti plains in Tanzania, citing a study that indicates the road could have an adverse effect on the annual migration of animals there. Reportedly the Obama administration raised the issue with the Tanzanian government recently, and it could be a point of discussion for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is currently visiting the African country.

Last year, Tanzania announced plans to create the new highway, which officials say will help spur economic development in northern areas of the country. The plans immediately came under fire from environmentalists and scientists who predicted that the road would change the migration patterns of millions of wildebeests, zebra, antelope, and other animals that travel between Tanzania and Kenya each year. Opponents of the proposal even suggested an alternate route for the highway in order to lessen its impact on the Serengeti itself.

So far, all pleas to the Tanzanian government have fallen on deaf ears, and their plans to construct the new road are moving ahead. Ultimately, when it is complete, the highway will link the cities of Arusha and Musoma, although the plan now is to leave the 50 mile section that crosses through the Serengeti unpaved. Environmentalists say it isn’t the road itself that will alter the annual migration, but the amount of traffic that will pass through the area. The route is expected to be one of the busiest highways in northern Tanzania when it opens.

It is unclear at this stage if the U.S. government can do anything to alter the construction of the highway, but with Clinton in the country on a 3-day state visit, it seems likely that the topic will at least be broached at some point.

When I visited the Serengeti a few years back, I completely fell in love with the place. It is one of the most spectacular and magical places I have ever visited, and the thought of it being altered by this road is disheartening. Hopefully a compromise can be found that will limit the impact of the new highway, allowing the amazing animals that live there to roam freely.

Airlines, Cruise Lines stay clear of chaotic Egypt

airlines cruise lines egyptA number of airlines have canceled flights in and out of Egypt and cruise lines have canceled calls to ports as unrest grows.

Norwegian Cruise Lines and MSC Cruises, both with scheduled stops in in Alexandria, Egypt have canceled those calls, modifying itineraries. Delta Airlines, Lufthansa, Air France, Kuwait Airways and Egypt Air have altered flights or suspended service to the region indefinitely.

The situation is grim. Demonstrators demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and the right to a free election have been seen looting,

After warning against travel to Egypt, evacuation flights are being organized by the US Embassy in Cairo and will leave Monday. India and Turkey are evacuating their citizens today. In a statement, the US Embassy said

“The U.S. Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens avoid travel to Egypt due to ongoing political and social unrest. On January 30, the Department of State authorized the voluntary departure of dependents and non-emergency employees. Violent demonstrations have occurred in several areas of Cairo, Alexandria and other parts of the country, disrupting road travel between city centers and airports. Disruptions in communications, including internet service, may occur. The Government of Egypt has imposed a curfew from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez until further notice.”

Protests in the last five days against Mubarak’s 30-year rule have caused the Egyptian army to be deployed in an attempt to control demonstrations. With at least 74 killed, two mummies destroyed, burning buildings and ongoing battles between protesters and police will effectively shut down tourism, a major factor in the Egyptian economy.

On CNN this morning, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US is standing by the existing Egyptian government “for now” urging an open discussion that could lead to peace.

Flickr photo by ChrisCruises

Will secretary Clinton help or hinder travel to Russia?

Travelers around the world are waiting for the day when the borders to Russia open wider to visitors. Although the formerly Communist country does and will accept tourists, the application process is long and expensive — you don’t just wander up to the border to Russia, get your passport stamped and mosey down to Red Square, no, before visitors to the Red State are even allowed to apply for a visa they need to be sponsored, a process that isn’t difficult but one that takes time, money and most of all, patience.

Now that the Obama administration has the reigns, however, many have high hopes for better relations between the United States and some of her formerly cold neighbors. Cuba, for example, has recently been hinting at welcoming American citizens back into the island nation and kick starting its economy.

Such is the message that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is taking with her as she circles the globe: Give us some time and space to figure things out and rebuild bridges — we’re not here to fight.

Or at least that’s what she thought she was saying to Sergi Lavrov, Russia’s Secretary of State and a prominent official with whom she met last week. In an attempt to get relations started off on the right foot, Mrs. Clinton presented Lavrov with a gag “reset button” that was meant to symbolize the resetting of relations between the former Cold War foes.

On the bottom was written RESET, in English, while the top said PEREGRUZKA, in Russian. Which does not mean “reset.” It means “OVERLOAD.”

Thankfully, Mr. Lavrov took the gaff in stride and the meeting still went well. And with any luck, relations between the east and west will soon become even warmer, making we American tourists one step closer to easy weekend caviar and vodka trips to Moscow.