By Courtney Bobik
The Late Period (664-332 BC) covers the time following the Third Intermediate Period up to the beginning of Greek rule. The Late Period is often seen as a time of cultural and political decline, though it may be argued that it was the opposite, as evinced by a richness of archaeological discoveries recorded in the EES Archive.
Figure 1: Prof. W. B. Emery overseeing work at the Sacred Animal Necropolis, North Saqqara.
The Late Period also saw a movement towards archaism, when motifs from previous periods such as the Old Kingdom (2686-2125 BC) were replicated in the new artistic repertoire. One aspect that remained relatively constant throughout the Late Period was the growing popularity of sacred animal cults. These cults are characterized by donations of bronze votive objects to various anthropomorphic gods and goddesses such as Bastet (cats) or Thoth (baboons). One of the most prominent examples is the cult centre of the mothers of the sacred Apis bull discovered at Saqqara, now known as the Sacred Animal Necropolis or Iseum which was dedicated to the goddess Isis. Prof. W.B. Emery directed excavations on behalf of the Egypt Exploration Society here from 1956 to 1971 (see figure 1). Emery discovered the necropolis whilst drawing his work on the Early Dynastic tombs in the area to a close. The material richness of the site is reflected in the vast numbers of object card records now stored in the EES LG Archive (see figure 2).
Figure 2: Object Cards documenting artefacts discovered alongside the sacred falcon burials in the Falcon Catacomb, or “New Ibis Galleries” at the Sacred Animal Necropolis. Left, Card 1969-70.4227/3397 depicts a bronze standing figurine of a Hawk or Falcon with a double crown on its head. Centre, Card 1969-70.3913/3024, depicts a standing bronze figure of Osiris. Right, Card 1969-70.3909/3020 depicts a bronze standing figurine of Horus pouring a libation.
Records kept by Emery during his time at the Sacred Animal Necropolis logged the many finds uncovered throughout the necropolis during the excavations. One intriguing discovery was the “New Ibis Galleries” or the Falcon Catacomb. This catacomb was found due to a hole in the southern wall of the Baboon Catacomb during the season of 1968, though excavations of the catacomb were delayed until the 1969 season. The catacomb was at first identified as another Ibis Catacomb until closer examination revealed that the mummies were modeled after falcons. In all, over 27 galleries were counted in the catacomb, each one full of mummified birds in vessels along with other various objects like bronze figurines (see figure 2). The team excavated the catacomb by assembling a line of workers to clear the galleries. Two or three Qufti workmen would dig out the jars from the sand within the gallery and pass it to a workman behind. This workman would then send the artefact down the line to be cleaned and brought before the excavators and their assistants to analyze, record, and catalogue each one. The excavations at the Sacred Animal Necropolis continued for several seasons until 1971, when Emery collapsed suddenly on the 7th March. Emery was taken to the Anglo-American Hospital in Cairo, where he later died on March 11th.
Figure 3: Photographs of one of the galleries in the falcon catacomb.
As Egyptian power fluctuated between Egyptian and Persian rulers, the sacred animal cults remained popular with a well-known account of Cambyses, the Persian ruler, wounding an Apis Bull during his reign that can be found in Book Three of Herodotus’ Histories.
Davies, S., Smith, H. and Frazer, K. 2005. The Sacred Animal Necropolis at North Saqqara. London: The Egypt Exploration Society.
Ray, J. and Martin, C. 2011. Texts from the Baboon and Falcon Galleries: Demotic, Hieroglyphic, and Greek Inscriptions from the Sacred Animal Necropolis, North Saqqara. London: The Egypt Exploration Society.
Smith, H.S., Davies, S. and Frazer, K. 2006. The Sacred Animal Necropolis at North Saqqara. London: The Egypt Exploration Society.
Smith, H.S. 1974. A Visit to Ancient Egypt: Life at Memphis and Saqqara (c. 500-30 BC). Warminster: Aris & Phillips Ltd.