A lion found in the Egyptian tomb of Maïa

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A lion found in the Egyptian tomb of Maïa
Paragraphs A–D below relate to the order of the citations to supplementary information in the printed text.



The rock tombs of the Bubasteion belonged to prominent people, often unknown before their discovery. The study of their decoration, inscriptions and contents brings much new information about the history, art, cults, diplomacy, and so on of the New Kingdom, particularly when they belong to the Amarnian Period (Amenhotep IV / Akhenaten's reign and successors). Cf. Zivie, A., Les Tombeaux retrouvés de Saqqara (Le Rocher, Monaco/Paris, 2003).


Concerning the chronological sequence of burials in this part of the tomb, it is likely that the annexe A of Room 3 at the funerary level (annexes A and B open from the eastern side of this room) had been filled with intrusive human burials and then blocked off by large stones, so the cats and the lion must have been buried in the main room n°3 after this phase of reoccupation, and therefore date from a later time. The Supreme Council of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo gave permission and helped with this work, supported by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


The big male cats possess a tiny baculum bone. For the lion, the length of this bone varies from 6 mm to 9.5 mm : cf. Didier, R. Etude systématique de l’os pénien des Mammifères, Mammalia 13, 17–37 (1949). In spite of the very careful excavation of the lion skeleton, this bone could not be found, but its absence proves nothing. An osteometrical comparison with data collected on 33 skeletons of modern individuals confirms the sex of this specimen: cf. Gross, C. Das Skelett des Höhlenlöwen (Panthera leo spelea Goldfuss, 1810) aus Siesdorf/Ldkr. Traunstein im Vergleich mit anderen Funden aus Deutschland und den Niederlanden. Inaugural-Dissertation zur Erlangung der tiermedizinischen Doktorwürde der Tierärztlichen Fakultät, Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, München (1992).


This worship had many religious and economic aspects: breading of numerous specimens of animals around the temples, preparation of burials and ex-voto, etc. But although we know of cemeteries for baboons, ibis, fish, cats, dogs, crocodiles, for example, at several sites in Egypt, no confirmation for the breeding and burial of lions, as mentioned by inscriptions and by late classical authors, had ever been found in the field, either in Memphis or in the city of Leontopolis in Lower Egypt (now Tell el-Moqdam), which was the main center for worship of lions: cf. Tell el-Moqdam, Lexikon der Aegyptologie, Wiesbaden, VI, 351-352 (1985); Thompson, D., Memphis under the Ptolemies, Princeton 1988, p.29, n. 15; Charron, A. Des “momies" de lions à Saqqarah. Bulletin de la Société d'Egyptologie de Genève, 21, 5-10 (1997). There are nevertheless numerous depictions of wild and tame lions in ancient Egyptian art: cf. Houlihan, P. F. The Animal World of the Pharaohs (Thames & Hudson, London, 1996).

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