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Australia When the bin chicken was a god: new research sheds light on ancient ibis

21:20  13 november  2019
21:20  13 november  2019 Source:   brisbanetimes.com.au

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However, new research involving researchers from Griffith University has found the birds must have come from a wild population. "There was a natural lake near the temple we were studying, and similarly to the white Australian Ibis , if the Sacred Ibis had access to water and food they would come

When the bin chicken was a god: new research sheds light on ancient ibis . Genetic testing has revealed that unlike today, ancient New analysis, based on the study of enamel dental tissue, revealed that the pair, believed to have been a man and a woman, were both men, researchers say.

Researchers have shown through genetic testing the ancient Egyptians didn't farm ibises but instead maintained wild populations near temples© Dr Sally Wasef Researchers have shown through genetic testing the ancient Egyptians didn't farm ibises but instead maintained wild populations near temples

The humble bin chicken is maligned by many in Australia as a pest, but say that in ancient Egypt and you might be put to death.

That’s because ibises were worshipped as gods in the ancient civilisation, considered to be earthly messengers of Thoth, the god of wisdom, who was depicted as a man with an ibis head.

Ironically this actually worked out worse for the ibises in the long run, as they were captured and killed in their millions to create mummies that would be offered by the faithful as temple devotions.

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When the bin chicken was a god: new research sheds light on ancient ibis . Genetic testing has revealed that unlike today, ancient Egyptians went out of their way to encourage ibises to live near temples, with the birds considered holy.

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It had been previously thought that temples must have kept captive populations of ibises to meet the demand for ibis mummies.

However, new research involving researchers from Griffith University has found the birds must have come from a wild population.

A long way from an Egyptian temple -  © Peter Rae A long way from an Egyptian temple - "bin chickens" are now a fixture of most Australian cities. Sally Wasef from Griffith’s Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution did genetic analysis on some of the mummified birds which have survived to the present day, and found they had great genetic diversity.

"When we looked at the genomes we could find any evidence that these birds had been domesticated or farmed," she said.

"If you farm chickens, for example, the genetic variations within those chickens will be minimal, because you’re keeping the genes in that pool."

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"But when you compare those mummies to the wild population of ibises which live in parts of Africa today, they’re very similar."

As a result of the research, a new theory has been proposed - that temples encouraged wild populations of ibises to live nearby so they could access the birds when they needed them.

"There was a natural lake near the temple we were studying, and similarly to the white Australian Ibis, if the Sacred Ibis had access to water and food they would come in great numbers," Dr Wasef said.

a stone oven: Millions of ibis mummies have been found in Egypt, often stacked floor-to-ceiling in temple catacombs© Dr Sally Wasef Millions of ibis mummies have been found in Egypt, often stacked floor-to-ceiling in temple catacombs "So we suggested that the priests were catching them by leaving food out in the wetlands close to the temple."

Supporting this theory is the fact that researchers have also found a number of "fake" ibis mummies, usually consisting of mummified feathers and nests, in the temple catacombs, suggesting the birds were not always able to be obtained when needed.

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Radiocarbon dating of the ibis mummies put most of them to about 600BCE, with 15,000 birds estimated to have been mummified and offered annually at each temple site, of which there were many.

The researchers sampled 14 ibis mummies from five major sacred ibis burial sites, and compared them to 26 modern ibis samples collected from throughout Africa.

Ironically the devotional practice, along with a number of other factors, eventually saw the ibis disappear from Egypt, although the bin chickens that roam through Australian cities are physically almost identical to their ancient cousins.

The research has been published in the journal PLOS One.

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