The ancient Egyptian animal mummification industry was so large it put some species in danger of extinction. But as a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC shows, the
Egyptians believed they were doing the animals a great honour.
Egypt in the 7th Century BC was not a healthy place to be if you were a cat or a dog.
Puppy farms and other animal breeding programmes were a huge industry - not to produce pets, but to provide a stock of animals to be killed and mummified.
The Egyptians believed that animals held a unique position in the afterlife. They could keep the dead company, they represented the gods, and they were well received as offerings by the gods, Egyptologists say.
Such was the enthusiasm for animal slaughter that experts say it contributed to the extinction in Egypt of at least one bird species. The Sacred Ibis were mummified in the millions because they were sacred to Thoth, the god of wisdom and writing, says Selima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo.
Others, including hawks and falcons, saw their populations dwindle.
"It's easier to say which animals the Egyptians didn't mummify," says Prof Ikram, who helped curate the Smithsonian's largest mummy exhibition to date.
"There are no mummified pigs as far as we know, no mummified hippos, and I think that's about it - because almost every other creature at some time or another has been mummified."
At the exhibit, visitors can see a range of mummified animals, including the Sacred Ibis, and gain an insight into the industry that became a driving force of the economy of ancient Egypt.
When animals in the wild started dying out, extensive breeding programmes were launched by the temples and surrounding villages.
Source: BBC News