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That’s a wrap! Egypt’s mummy ‘scandal’ exposed

The BBC reported that more than 800 mummies, ranging from birds, to crocodiles to cats have been scanned

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Scientists in the UK say they have unveiled what the press are dubbing a scandal at the heart of ancient Egypt’s mummification of animals, reporting that about a third of scanned bundles of cloth are in fact empty inside.

Scientists at Manchester Museum and the University of Manchester were followed by the BBC’s Horizon program and said that the huge appetite for religious offerings of animal mummies may have outstripped supply.

The BBC reported that more than 800 mummies, ranging from birds, to crocodiles to cats have been scanned using X-rays and CT scans.

Dr Lidija McKnight, an Egyptologist from the University of Manchester, told the BBC: “There have been some surprises.

“We always knew that not all animal mummies contained what we expected them to contain, but we found around a third don’t contain any animal material at all - so no skeletal remains.”

Animal mummies were widely used as religious offerings.

“Animal mummies were votive gifts. Today you’d have a candle in a cathedral; in Egyptian times you would have an animal mummy,” said Dr Campbell Price, curator of Egypt and Sudan, at Manchester Museum.

The researchers added that they do not believe the empty mummies were a scam but noted the public may have known they were only buying parts of animals.

“We think they were mummifying pieces of animals that were lying around, or materials associated with the animals during their lifetime - so nest material or eggshells,” Dr McKnight told the BBC.

“They were special because they had been in close proximity with the animals - even though they weren’t the animals themselves.

“So we don’t think it’s forgery or fakery. It’s just that they were using everything they could find. And often the most beautifully wrapped mummies don’t contain the animal remains themselves.”