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Mitogenomic diversity in Sacred Ibis mummies sheds light on early Egyptian practices


Wasef, S and Subramanian, S and O'Rorke, R and Huynen, L and El-Marghani, S and Curtis, C and Popinga, A and Holland, B and Ikram, S and Millar, C and Willerslev, E and Lambert, D, Mitogenomic diversity in Sacred Ibis mummies sheds light on early Egyptian practices, PLoS One, 14, (11) Article e0223964. ISSN 1932-6203 (2019) [Refereed Article]


Copyright Statement

Copyright 2019 Wasef et al. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

DOI: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0223964


The ancient catacombs of Egypt harbor millions of well-preserved mummified Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) dating from ∼600BC. Although it is known that a very large number of these ‘votive’ mummies were sacrificed to the Egyptian God Thoth, how the ancient Egyptians obtained millions of these birds for mummification remains unresolved. Ancient Egyptian textual evidences suggest they may have been raised in dedicated large-scale farms. To investigate the most likely method used by the priests to secure birds for mummification, we report the first study of complete mitochondrial genomes of 14 Sacred Ibis mummies interred ∼2500 years ago. We analysed and compared the mitogenomic diversity among Sacred Ibis mummies to that found in modern Sacred Ibis populations from throughout Africa. The ancient birds show a high level of genetic variation comparable to that identified in modern African populations, contrary to the suggestion in ancient hieroglyphics (or ancient writings) of centralized industrial scale farming of sacrificial birds. This suggests a sustained short-term taming of the wild migratory Sacred Ibis for the ritual yearly demand.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:sacred ibis mummies, genetic diversity
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Genetics
Research Field:Molecular evolution
Objective Division:Culture and Society
Objective Group:Religion
Objective Field:Religious structures
UTAS Author:Holland, B (Professor Barbara Holland)
ID Code:135817
Year Published:2019
Web of Science® Times Cited:11
Deposited By:Mathematics and Physics
Deposited On:2019-11-15
Last Modified:2020-05-20
Downloads:18 View Download Statistics

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