Ancient Egypt: Worlds first zoo over 6,000 years old unearthed

Ancient Egypt: Zoo animals found buried alongside an early ruler

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Ancient Egypt has drawn the focus of archaeologists and historians for centuries. Researchers have revelled at the advanced society inhabited by many pharaohs thousands of years ago. British Egyptologist William Matthew Flinders Petrie was nicknamed the ‘father of Egyptian archaeology’, and first introduced archaeological techniques in Egypt in the mid-1880s. Thanks to his work, researchers have been able to learn vast amounts about what life was like for Ancient Egyptians.

In more modern times, researchers have also been able to study what life was like before the pharaohs took power, around 3,000BC. In 2015, experts were carrying out excavations at the site of Hierakonpolis — the religious and political capital of Upper Egypt, known as the ‘City of the Hawk’.

As shown in the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary, ‘Secrets: Beasts of the Pharaohs’, they made a remarkable discovery. Archaeologist Dr Renée Friedman came across the remains of animals that came from right across the African continent.

The researchers were able to establish that the animals — a leopard, baboons, an oryx, a crocodile, and an ostrich — were kept by the people who lived during Egypt’s prehistoric era. Dr Friedman explained what the discovery meant.

She said: “In essence, here we have the world’s first zoo. This dates back over 6,000 years ago. This is before even the invention of writing, before the invention of the potter’s wheel. This is before pyramids were even a glint in some king’s eye.”

Dr Friedman and her team were also able to establish when the animals were buried. She added: “We’ve been able to get dates on our animals now from what they had for their final meal.

“This has allowed us to get carbon for 14 dates, which has been showing us that many of these animals were buried all at the same time, because the dates are almost identical.”

The animals were killed and buried along with a ruler of the time. They believe this was done because the people believed that the animal’s mystical powers would stay with the ruler as he entered the afterlife.

As well as animals, the archaeologists also found the remains of women and children at the same burial site. Dr Friedman explained: At a funeral, everybody went together.


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“That means both the animals and the humans were accompanying the ruler to the next life.”

Hierakonpolis is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. Other discoveries made there have shed light on how the foundations of Ancient Egyptian society were built.

This includes the Narmer Palette, a significant discovery dating back to about the 31st century BC. It is thought to be one of the earliest political documents in history, depicting the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt during the reign of King Narmer.

The Ancient Egyptians used to inscribe their historical events onto stone to immortalise them, as was the case with the Narmer Palette. On one half of the stone, King Narmer is shown with the white crown of Upper Egypt marching. Also depicted is the necks of two mythical creatures, which could represent Upper and Lower Egypt.

On the other side, the King is seen wearing the crown of Upper Egypt, seemingly about to strike the ruler of lower Egypt.


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