Saturday, 23 April 2016

Research into Ancient Egyptian Shrews Reveal Species

Interesting article about shrews in Ancient Egypt in the Smithsonian Insider.  Here is a taster:
"Nocturnal, solitary and fiercely territorial the adult Egyptian pigmy shrew—one of the smallest mammals on earth—weighs just 7 grams. French zoologist Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire first described this tiny-eyed, pointy snouted insect eater in 1826 from 2,000-year-old mummified specimens excavated inside an ancient temple in Thebes, Egypt. He named it Crocidura religiosa, or the sacred shrew.
“Egyptian pilgrims coming to worship a god would buy a mummified shrew from the temple priest and present it as a votive offering,” explains Neal Woodman, shrew expert and U.S. Geological Survey Curator of Mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. “One way of getting your request to the gods was to have a messenger.” A mummified shrew or other animal associated with a particular god served as that messenger.
Today, C. religiosa and other ancient shrew mummies are the emissaries of a different message. Using X-rays to penetrate their linen-wrapped bodies, with “the right angle and a good image of the skull,” Woodman is able to identify what species they are. “I’ve been working with an Egyptian archaeologist who is also interested in animal mummies and animal mummification. I have been identifying shrews from the images that she sends me. It’s been interesting.”
Six species of mummified shrews have been identified, Woodman explains. “Of these, one species is extinct, and another no longer occurs in Egypt.” He is now attempting to create a simple identification key to the various shrew species of Egypt, one that archaeologists who find shrew mummies in temples around Egypt can use."
Image via Smithsonian Inside
Read full article here

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