Death Dogs of Ancient Egypt come to Ann Arbor! | Michigan Radio
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Death Dogs of Ancient Egypt come to Ann Arbor!

Mar 9, 2015

Studying archeology gives us a chance to open windows into the lives and beliefs of civilizations that have come before us.

Wild jackals and dogs could have been the geneses of Egyptian jackal gods, which ancients associated with death.
Credit FLICKR USER RAYMORRIS1 / FLICKR

We seem to have an endless fascination with Ancient Egypt. So it’s worth noting that we've got a chance to see Egyptian artifacts discovered in the 1920s and 1930s – objects the public has never had the chance to see before.

The University of Michigan’s Kelsey Museum of Archeology is putting on an exhibition, called Death Dogs: The Jackal Gods of Ancient Egypt.

Terry Wilfong, a professor of Egyptology and curator of the exhibition, said that ancient Egyptians believed the jackal gods to be helpers of the dead.

“Their roles involved helping people get from the point of death into the afterlife,” he said. “So Anubis is in charge of embalming the dead person and also presides over the judgment of the dead. Wait helps guide the dead person on the path to the afterlife, and Duamutef protects certain vital internal organs inside the dead person, kind of keeping them alive in the afterlife.”

But how were wild dogs and jackals first associated with death and funerals?

“The Egyptians never come out and tell us, but we can make some guesses. These animals are mostly scavengers," Wilfong said. "It’s likely that when these associations first get made in prehistory, the Egyptians are just seeing them carrying bones around, you know animal bones and human bones and putting, at least for the human bones, maybe putting a really optimistic spin on them: that these dogs are trying to help the dead people in some way.”