Washington, Feb 1 : Archaeologists have unearthed an unusual grave containing mummified dogs, among four other ancient tombs holding well-preserved mummies and ornate painted coffins in El Faivum, an oasis about 80 kilometers southwest of Cairo in Egypt.
According to a report in National geographic, the team of U.S. and Russian archaeologists stumbled upon the burials during routine work in a section of the cemetery, which was used from the early fourth century B.C. to the seventh century A.D.
One of the strangest discoveries made at the site was the non-mummified body of a child buried with several mummified dogs, a grave unlike any other yet found in Egypt.
The human remains, which were naturally mummified by the arid climate, were partially covered in a sack, its lower half surrounded by crudely mummified canines ranging from puppies to fully mature animals.
"They are put in any which way, with no real sense of orientation," said AUC's Ikram, an animal mummy expert.
According to Ikram, ancient Egyptians were known to keep domesticated pets and sometimes were buried with them.
"Other animals were included in burials as part of a religious ritual, but this find is unlike any that has been documented," he said.
"The kind of deposit [of animals] you have here is neither like a sacred deposit [nor] like a pet deposit," said Ikram. "It really is a very interesting new page in the archaeology of humans and animals in Egypt," he added.
In other findings, four of the newfound tombs contained human-shaped coffins that were mostly intact, though some showed slight damage near the feet, probably the result of ancient robbers rummaging for riches.
Inside two of the coffins, mummies were covered at the head and feet with brightly colored cartonnage-a papier-m¢che like material often plastered over mummified bodies and decorated.
One of the mummies bore a cartonnage mask painted in gold, symbolizing eternity.
Three of the coffins were wooden and lay parallel. A smaller fourth coffin-likely for a child-was made of papyrus or a similar material and was set at a slightly different angle, the report said.
According to Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, some of the newly discovered remains are the best yet found from the Ptolemaic era-the span of Greek rule that began shortly after the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.
"They show some of the best examples of mummies from this period," said Hawass.