Surprising Facts About Sacrificial Burials in Egypt

A wall painting found in an Egyptian tomb.

When you talk about a sacrificial burial, Egypt seems one of the unlikely places to find them. We generally think of Egyptian mummies occupying the massive tombs in the Valley of the Kings, not bodies of other people. Researchers now have evidence that ancient Egyptians practiced sacrificial burials during their funeral rituals.

Sacrificial Burials: Egypt's Secret

Egyptologists have long known that the leaders of Egypt were buried with items they would need to take into the afterlife. Ample evidence of this was discovered with King Tut (Tutankhamun). Food, clothing, even shelters, have been unearthed along with the great kings. Unusual discoveries have included donkeys, a fleet of boats and rooms full of people. Evidence found from 2001-2003 revealed that sacrificial burials in Egypt definitely occurred during the First Dynasty.

King Aha: First King, First Dynasty

Archaeologists have been excavating King Aha's tomb in Abydos since the 1890's when Flinders Petrie first discovered it. This king reigned during Egypt's First Dynasty. After magnetic resonance was used in the area of the tomb, additional structures were discovered. These structures include a mortuary enclosure, chapel and several subsidiary graves. Within these graves, the bodies of individuals have been found. These individuals are presumed to have been servants or concubines of the King. They would have been killed in order to assist King Aha in the afterlife. In addition, a grave containing 10 donkey skeletons was also found, presumably to be transportation for the king.

King Djer

King Djer ruled after King Aha, during the First Dynasty. When his tomb was unearthed, 300 satellite graves were discovered. It is also important to note that human figures were also used in King Djer's tomb, indicating that sacrificing too many people could be detrimental to the society.

King Djet

A total of 174 satellite graves were found around this king's tomb. All of these individuals were presumably killed at the time of the king's official burial.

Queen MerNeith

It is believed that MerNeith ruled when her son was too young to succeed to the throne after his father, King Djet, died. MerNeith was buried with 40 sacrificed individuals including her artists, ship maker and vase maker.

King Qa'a

The practice of sacrificing individuals for use in the afterlife appears to have stopped during this king's reign. Archaeologists began finding more evidence of statues and figurines instead of the sacrificial burials of humans and animals. This king was the last to rule during the First Dynasty.

Sacrificial Animals

The ancient Egyptians did not worship animals. Each deity the Egyptians worshiped had an animal associated with them. Animals were sacrificed and buried with important people in order to honor a specific deity. One of the most popular animals sacrificed and later mummified, was the cat. The cat is associated with the goddess Bastet. Unfortunately for the cat, the popularity of Bastet required a lot of sacrifices, particular of kittens in the age range of four to six months of age. Thousands of these mummified kittens have been found through the years in Egypt.

Further Reading

There are many books on the subject of sacrificial burials, as well as funeral rituals that were performed in ancient Egypt. Some of these books can help offer a better understanding of Egypt's fascinating cultural heritage.

  • Burying the Pharaoh in the Valley of the Kings by Jimmy Dunn
  • The Coffin Text by Taylor Ray Ellison
  • The Coffins of Ancient Egypt by Jefferson Monet
  • What Egyptians Took to the Afterlife by Jimmy Dunn
  • The Book of the Dead by Caroline Seawright''
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Surprising Facts About Sacrificial Burials in Egypt