Archaeologists suspect that all 142 dogs died at the same time — but there are no signs of violence on their remains.
The sands of Egypt are rich with historical discoveries, but archaeologists working near Cairo recently came across a puzzling find while excavating a necropolis. There, they unearthed the ancient remains of an eight-year-old child laid carefully across the bodies of 142 dogs.
Archaeologists with the Centre for Egyptological Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences (CEI RAS) made the strange discovery while excavating a necropolis at the Faiyum Oasis, west of the Nile River and approximately 60 miles south of Cairo. According to Euro Weekly News, the burial appears to date from between the first century B.C.E. and the first century C.E.
“A child of eight to nine years old was laid on top of the bodies of 142 dogs of different ages, mostly puppies (87 percent),” CEI RAS explained. Though this scene was strange enough, archaeologists noted an additional oddity: someone had placed a linen bag placed around the child’s head.
“Burials like those discovered by the Centre’s specialists are not typical for Egypt,” CEI RAS noted, speculating, “The mass burial of dogs may indicate a synthesis of religious and magical ideas of the Egyptians and foreigners living in [Faiyum], which gave rise to new forms of ritual practice.”
But despite the head-scratching scene, archaeologists uncovered a couple of clues about what may have happened to the dogs and to the child.
According to Heritage Daily, archaeologists discovered traces of blue clay on the dogs’ remains. Since a similar type of clay was commonly found in reservoirs in ancient Egypt, it’s possible that some kind of catastrophic flood killed the animals. Plus, there’s no sign of violence on the dogs, so drowning is a likely explanation for why so many of them died at once.
The child’s role in the burial is murky, however. It’s unclear how the child related to the dogs, though archaeologists have speculated that the child may have been caring for the animals when they suddenly died.
As for the linen bag around the child’s head? That presents an even deeper mystery. Heritage Daily reports that archaeologists have found a body with a similar bag at the necropolis before, but with a big difference. Namely, that body had an arrow in its chest — and had likely been executed.
Though questions remain, the discovery of the child and the dogs offers a tantalizing glimpse into ancient Egyptian life. Heritage Daily notes that the strange find was made near the ancient Egyptian town of Crocodilopolis, a once-thriving settlement dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek.
Archaeologists from CEI RAS have been excavating the Faiyum Oasis necropolis for the past several years. In addition to the child buried with 142 dogs, they’ve also uncovered other burials dating from between the fourth century B.C.E and the seventh century C.E.
Hopefully, these burials will paint a fuller picture of what life was like in this part of ancient Egypt thousands of years ago. Maybe, subsequent discoveries in the necropolis will even answer questions about what happened to this young child and the 142 dogs buried alongside them.
After reading about the ancient Egyptian child found mysteriously buried with 142 dogs in the Faiyum Oasis necropolis, discover the story of the Stone Age child who may have been buried with a wolf in present-day Finland. Or, see how archaeologists discovered a strange cat mummy in Egypt with the remains of three different cats inside.