Ancient Lion Skeleton Found In Egyptian Tomb
by Jenny Dolphin
The discovery of the skeleton of a male lion in the tomb of King Tutankhamen's wet nurse Maļa in the city of Memphis, Egypt, has lent weight to the theory that ancient Egyptians worshipped lions.
The lion was discovered in the tomb, located in Saqqara burial ground in the Nile Valley, in November 2001 by a team of archaeologists excavating the area. The tomb itself dates back to 1330 BC but the remains were probably not placed inside it until centuries later.
Historically, the Egyptians have depicted the lion as a deity with human attributes, a well-known example being the Sphinx. It was known that lions were bred and buried during the pharaonic dynasties but researchers had never found interred remains.
Excavation leader Dr. Alain Zivie said of the find: "We knew from pharaonic inscriptions that lions existed in ancient Egypt and were buried in these tombs, but we had never found one until now."
The lion remains were unearthed in a part of Maļa's tomb dedicated to Bastet, the goddess with the head of a cat.
The room was littered with animal bones, however the lion skeleton stood out because of its size. The bones are several of the largest ever recorded for a male lion.
Lions may have been raised in sanctuaries and fed and buried ritualistically. It is now deemed certain that they were part of the cult of animal worship that characterised Late and Hellenistic Egypt.
The "virtually complete, undisturbed skeleton" was laid out on a rock next to a wall. It appeared to have been partially preserved but was not wrapped in linen.
The discolouration and mineral deposits on the bones were comparable to those of mummified cats found in the same catacombs, indicating that the lion may also have been mummified.
The body was oriented to the east and the head pointed to the north. The skull had been partly crushed.
Dr Zivie commented: "The lion is full of symbolism. It represents strength and fierceness. The lion is the king of the animals, but he's also the animal of the kings of Egypt and he's connected, in particular, to the goddesses, many of whom are depicted with lion faces."
Speculation has arisen that this particular lion was either believed to be an incarnation of, or was a dedication to, the god Mahes, who had a lion's head. Mahes was a venerated figure in the "city of the lion", Leontopolis, and he also bred lions.
University of Chicago Egyptologist Dr. Emily Teeter offered an alternative explanation that the ancient Egyptians believed the lion represented Mahes' mother Sekhmet. Sekhmet, who has the head of a lioness, is believed to represent the cat goddess Bastet's darker side.
Not all experts agree, however, that the discovery is significant. Forensic anthropologist Robert Pickering of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, said the fact that no flesh was preserved and no bandages were found makes the mummification claim dubious.
"It seems to be treated different from other animals that were entombed as part of ritual," Pickering said. "Maybe this lion's importance is as a family pet rather than as a representative of a god. The context doesn't seem to fit."
New York Timeswww.nytimes.com/2004/01/20/science/20LION.html
Discovery Shows Sacred Status of Egyptian Lion
National Geographic News
Egyptian Lion Mummy Found in Ancient Tomb
Middle East Onlinewww.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=8562
Mummified lion unearthed in Egypt
First lion mummy found in tomb near King Tut
© 2004 Animal News Center, Inc.