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Other mummies were provisions for the dead. The best cuts of beef, succulent ducks, geese, and pigeons were salted, dried, and wrapped in linen. "Victual mummies" is what Ikram calls this gourmet jerky for the hereafter. "Whether or not you got it regularly in life didn't matter because you got it for eternity."

And some animals were mummified because they were the living representatives of a god. The venerable city of Memphis, the capital for much of Egypt's ancient history, covered 20 square miles at its largest in about 300 B.C., with a population of some 250,000. Today most of its crumbled glory lies under the village of Mit Rahina and the surrounding fields. But along a dusty lane, the ruins of a temple stand half hidden amid tufts of grass. This was the embalming house of the Apis bull, one of the most revered animals in all of ancient Egypt.

A symbol of strength and virility, the Apis was closely linked to the all-powerful king. He was part animal, part god and was chosen for veneration because of his unusual set of markings: a white triangle on his forehead, white winged patterns on his shoulders and rump, a scarab silhouette on his tongue, and double hairs at the end of his tail. During his lifetime he was kept in a special sanctuary, pampered by priests, adorned with gold and jewels, and worshipped by the multitudes. When he died, his divine essence was believed to move on to another bull, and so a search for the new one began. Meanwhile, the body of the deceased was transported to the temple and laid on a bed of finely carved travertine. Mummification took at least 70 days—40 to dry the enormous repository of flesh, and 30 to wrap it.

On the bull's burial day, city residents surged into the streets to observe this occasion of national mourning. Wailing and tearing at their hair, they crowded the route to the catacomb now known as the Serapeum in the desert necropolis of Saqqara. In procession, priests, temple singers, and exalted officials delivered the mummy to the network of vaulted galleries carved into the bedrock of limestone. There, among the long corridors of previous burials, they interred the mummy in a massive wooden or granite sarcophagus. In later centuries, though, the sanctity of this place was violated as thieves pried off the sarcophagus lids and ransacked the mummies to find their precious ornaments. Sadly, not a single burial of the Apis bull has survived intact.

Different sacred animals were worshipped at their own cult centers—bulls at Armant and Heliopolis, fish at Esna, rams at Elephantine Island, crocodiles at Kom Ombo. Ikram believes the idea of such divine creatures was born at the dawn of Egyptian civilization, a time when heavier rainfall than today made the land green and bountiful. Surrounded by animals, people began to connect them with specific gods according to their habits.

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