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The animal mummies of the Allard Pierson

The Allard Pierson has a unique collection of Old Egyptian animal mummies. These have never been thoroughly examined before. What can these mummies tell us after thousands of years? Together with the Amsterdam UMC and Naturalis Biodiversity Center, the museum will look into their hidden past. This research will be turned into a permanent, interactive presentation.

In Ancient Egypt, not only people but also animals were mummified. Animal mummies were given as a gift to a deity, for example, in the hope of receiving a favour in return. In the Allard Pierson, where the collections of the University of Amsterdam are housed, there are thirteen animal mummies to be found. Together, they form a wonderful cross-section of the types of animals that the Egyptians mummified: from birds to reptiles and from mammals to insects.

‘We can understand the Ancient Egyptians better if we know how they interacted with their environment'.

At the moment, the mummies are in the storage depot of the Allard Pierson and this is something the museum would like to change. First, they need to be carefully examined, because much about these mummies remains to be discovered. The museum will work closely together with the Amsterdam UMC, Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden and the 4D Research Lab at the University of Amsterdam.

Crocodile mummy under CT scanner in Amsterdam UMC
The result of the scan

The past is relevant to the here and now

‘We can understand the Ancient Egyptians better if we know how they interacted with their environment,' says curator and project leader Ben van den Bercken. ‘For example, we have a falcon mummy in the collection that has a very strange surface on the outside. We are very curious to know how they made this and what is inside.’

During the research, various disciplines come together, providing valuable information for archaeologists, biologists and taxonomists alike. We can learn about the life of the animals around the temples and the mummification techniques that were used. We can also find out which animal species we are dealing with, which is of great importance for today's nature conservation.

Mummy of a mouse in matching box

The audience contributes to the research

This summer, the mummies were examined using a CT scanner and X-ray machine at the Amsterdam University Medical Centres, in order to unravel their hidden past. This was a rare occasion, as scanning animal mummies is not done often, unlike scanning human mummies.

The special thing about this project is that the public can actively contribute to the research. ‘Of course, us researchers may have many questions about the animal mummies, but so does the public,' Van den Bercken explains. The researchers will therefore allow the public to observe, share their thoughts and ask questions about the mummies.

The research will be translated into an interactive presentation for the public. Here, the results will be shown, and the visitors will get answers to their questions. The final goal of the project is for the animal mummies to return to the Allard Pierson and be given a place in the permanent presentation. This will bring the public a little closer to the past.