The team were also able to dissect the mummies to learn how the animals lived and died more than 2,000 years ago, according to a press release from the University of Swansea in Wales, published Thursday.
Previous research had shown that the mummies contained a snake, a bird and a cat, but now X-ray micro CT scanning — which gives images 100 times more detailed than a medical CT scan — means scientists have even been able to look at the animals’ teeth.
“Using micro CT we can effectively carry out a post-mortem on these animals, more than 2000 years after they died in ancient Egypt,” said Richard Johnston, a professor at Swansea University, who led the research.
“These are the very latest scientific imaging techniques. Our work shows how the hi-tech tools of today can shed new light on the distant past.”
Researchers found the cat was less than five months old, and separation of its vertebrae suggest it was strangled to death, while the bird was identified as a Eurasian kestrel, thanks to virtual bone measurement.
The snake was a juvenile Egyptian cobra, and scientists found evidence of kidney damage, which means it probably suffered from a lack of access to water and developed a form of gout.
Researchers say the cobra was killed by a “whipping action” and may have undergone a procedure to open up its mouth during mummification.
“If true this demonstrates the first evidence for complex ritualistic behaviour applied to a snake,” according to the press release.
Mummified animals such as cats, snakes, crocodiles and dogs were common in ancient Egypt. Sometimes they were buried with their owner, or provided as a source of food in the afterlife.
However, most often mummified animals were taken to temples as an offering to the gods. Some 70 million animals were mummified for this purpose, according to the press release.
“Our findings have uncovered new insights into animal mummification, religion and human-animal relationships in ancient Egypt,” said Carolyn Graves-Brown, curator of the Egypt Centre at Swansea University.
In November 2019, Egypt unveiled an unprecedented discovery of dozens of mummified sacred animals, including cats, crocodiles and two lion cubs, found during the excavation of a tomb of a royal priest.
Khaled El-Enany, Egypt’s minister of antiquities, said the find dated back to the seventh century BC and could fill “a museum by itself.”
And in April 2019 the ministry announced the discovery of a preserved double graveyard containing the remains of a man, his wife, and mummified animals, including cats and mice.