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Mummified baboons reveal the far reach of early Egyptian mariners

  1. Nathaniel J Dominy  Is a corresponding author
  2. Salima Ikram
  3. Gillian L Moritz
  4. Patrick V Wheatley
  5. John N Christensen
  6. Jonathan W Chipman
  7. Paul L Koch
  1. Departments of Anthropology and Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College, United States
  2. Department of Sociology, Egyptology, and Anthropology, American University in Cairo, Egypt
  3. Center for Isotope Geochemistry, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, United States
  4. Department of Geography, Dartmouth College, United States
  5. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz, United States
Research Article
Cite this article as: eLife 2020;9:e60860 doi: 10.7554/eLife.60860
15 figures, 3 tables and 1 additional file

Figures

Egyptian iconography of Papio hamadryas, a tradition exceeding 3000 years.

(a) Statuette inscribed with the name of King Narmer, Early Dynastic Period, 1st Dynasty, ca. 3150–3100 BC (no. ÄM 22607, reproduced with permission from the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, 2020, under the terms of a CC0 1.0 license. (b) Bronze axe head, Middle Kingdom, 12th or 13th Dynasty, ca. 1981–1640 BC (no. 30.8.111, reproduced with permission from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2020, under the terms of a CC0 1.0 license. (c) Reliefs at the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut [Deir el-Bahari]. A hamadryas baboon sits in the rigging of a ship. It is one of five being imported from Punt; New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, ca. 1473–1458 BC. (d) Wall painting in the mortuary chapel of Rekhmire (TT 100), Vizier to Tuthmose III and Amenhotep II. A baboon (P. hamadryas) is shown as tribute in a procession from Nubia. Three vervets (Chlorocebus aethiops) are also illustrated, one of which climbs the neck of a beautifully rendered giraffe; New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, ca. 1479–1425 BC. (e) Large 35-ton statue at Hermopolis Magna (author NJD shown for scale); erected by Amenhotep III, New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, ca. 1370 BC. (f) Frieze of baboons on the east-facing facade of the rock-cut temple of Abu Simbel (g), New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, ca. 1265 BC. The raised arms are interpreted as a posture of adoration toward the rising sun, whereas the open mouth may represent vocal behavior (te Velde, 1988). (h) Pectoral necklace of Tutankhamun; baboons are surmounted with lunar disks and simultaneously adoring the central solar disk, a rare combination of two stereotypical postures; New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, ca. 1341–1323 BC (no. JE 61885, Museum of Egyptian Antiquities). (i) Faience figurine and exemplary representation of Thoth: a male P. hamadryas in a seated posture, hands on knees, and surmounted by a lunar disc, Ptolemaic period, 332–30 BC (no. E 17496, Musée du Louvre).

© 2020, Rama, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. Figure 1I is reproduced with permission from Rama, 2020, under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0; this image is not distributed under the terms of the CC0 1.0 license, and further reproduction of this image panel should adhere to the terms of the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license.

© 2019, Sandro Vannini. All rights reserved. Figure 1D is reproduced with permission from Sandro Vannini, 2019; this image is not distributed under the terms of the CC0 1.0 license, and further reproduction of this image panel would need permission from the copyright holder.

Box 1—figure 1
Modern geographic distribution of baboons (Papio) in Africa and southwest Arabia.

The polygon illustrates our area of geospatial analysis, which encompasses regions inhabited by sacred baboons (P. hamadryas) and olive baboons (P. anubis).

Egypt lies well beyond the distributions of P. anubis and P. hamadryas, and there is no evidence of natural populations in Egypt during antiquity.

The remains of baboons in Egypt are therefore interpreted as evidence of foreign trade. This figure puts the present study specimens—EA6736, EA6738, and those of Saqqara—into context by illustrating spatiotemporal variation in the preservation of baboons, emphasizing differences in taxonomy, wrapping, and deposition (i.e., burials, tombs, or catacombs). Horizontal bars represent the temporal spans of baboon-bearing archaeological sites and known expeditions to Punt. Every New Kingdom specimen of P. hamadryas is penecontemporaneous with expeditions to Punt and associated with a royal temple or tomb. The quality of New Kingdom mummification is often extremely high, in part because the limb and tail elements were wrapped individually. Excluded from this figure is a baboon of uncertain taxonomy and disposition found buried in a palace at Tell el-Dab’a, and dating from the 18th Dynasty (von den Driesch, 2006). Mersa Gawasis is a Middle Kingdom harbor and port that was used to launch and receive seafaring voyages to Punt.

Illustration by William Scavone, Kestrel Studios.

The British Museum holds two mummified baboons with New Kingdom attributions.

(a) EA6736 is attributed to P. hamadryas (Anderson and de Winton, 1902). The present analysis is based on six strands of hair sourced from the upper right arm. (b) EA6736 was the subject of an early radiograph in 1899, which revealed the absence of four canine teeth (Anderson and de Winton, 1902). (c) EA6738 is also attributed to P. hamadryas (Anderson and de Winton, 1902), and it was the source of three tissue types: hair, bone, and enamel. It is also devoid of canines Ossification of the corresponding maxillary (d) and mandibular (e) alveolar sockets is evidence that the animal survived the procedure for many years.

Photographs in panels (d) and (e) by author NJD.

© 2020, The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Figure 3A is reproduced from The Trustees of the British Museum, 2020, under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0; this image is not distributed under the terms of the CC0 1.0 license, and further reproduction of this image panel should adhere to the terms of the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license).

© 2020, The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Figure 3C is reproduced from The Trustees of the British Museum, 2020, under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0; this image is not distributed under the terms of the CC0 1.0 license, and further reproduction of this image panel should adhere to the terms of the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license). 

Box 2—figure 1
Adult males of Papio hamadryas have large, formidable canine teeth that can be used to telling effect.

Photograph by author NJD.

Strontium isotope ratios (87Sr/86Sr) of enamel and bone from humans (Touzeau et al., 2013) and baboons—EA6738 (Papio hamadryas; Thebes) and UC30794-UC30803 (P. anubis; Baboon Catacomb, North Saqqara)—recovered from Egyptian sites.

The data set from Qurneh represents 15 people (mean ± 1 SD; source: Buzon and Simonetti, 2013). The gray-shaded region represents the range of Theban carbonate rocks, whereas the dashed lines define the range of Nile sediments (source: Touzeau et al., 2013). The divergent strontium isotope ratios of EA6738 are telling: the composition of enamel indicates early-life mineralization outside of Egypt, whereas the composition of bone indicates complete diagenesis or many years of living in Egypt prior to death and mummification.

Spatial estimation of isotope ratios and their differences from target values using Empirical Bayesian Kriging.

(a) Specimen locations of modern baboons (black points; source: Appendix 1—table 1) and the normalized difference values for δ18O against our target tissue, the hair of EA6736. (b) Specimen locations of modern baboons (black points; source: Appendix 1—table 2) and the normalized difference values for 87Sr/86Sr ratios against our target tissue, the enamel of EA6738. (c) The combined normalized difference of both isotope ratios against both target tissues. The black line bounds the area within 1 SE. Some points in panels (a) and (b) include multiple samples.

Box 3—figure 1
Borders of ancient Nubia (orange dashed lines) and present-day political borders.
Appendix 1—figure 1
Monkeys were depicted as foreign tribute in the mortuary chapel of Rekhmire (TT 100), Vizier to Tuthmose III and Amenhotep II; New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, ca. 1479–1425 BC.

(Left) Facsimile painting by Hoskins, 1835 (reproduced with permission from the Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library; this image is free to use without restriction). The upper, middle, and lower registers depict processions from Punt, Keftiu (Crete), and Nubia, Lower Nubia, and Khenethennefer, respectively (Güell i Rous, 2018). The tribute bearers from Punt and Nubia are associated with a wide range of natural resources, including seven monkeys, which Hoskins rendered as Papio hamadryas. (Right) Six of seven monkeys are detailed in a photograph by author NJD. Monkeys 2 and 6 are unambiguously P. hamadryas, whereas monkeys 1, 4, and 5 closely resemble vervets (Chlorocebus aethiops) on the basis of tail and cranial morphology.

Appendix 1—figure 2
Radiographs reveal the absence of canine teeth in four mummified baboons.

(a) Specimen of P. hamadryas recovered from KV52, Valley of the Kings, in 1906 (accession no. MM39, Mummification Museum, Luxor). The absence of canines is evident in the corresponding radiograph of MM39 (b) as well as those of two males, (c) JE38746 and (d) JE38744, recovered from KV51 in 1906 and accessioned in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Cairo. In general, the extraction of canine teeth is a hallmark of the New Kingdom; however, it is evident in at least one specimen (e and f) from the Ptolemaic period, demonstrating that the practice is imperfect evidence of a New Kingdom provenance. This specimen has no feet for unknown reasons (accession no. AMM 15). A mummified monkey (g) found with Maetkare (1070–945 BC), a high priestess of the 21 st Dynasty, is often described as a young specimen of P. hamadryas based on the radiograph (e) of Harris and Weeks, 1973; however, the animal is equipped with adult dentition and is therefore a smaller species, probably Chlorocebus aethiops or Erythrocebus patas (Ikram and Iskander, 2002). It is also missing its canine teeth (accession no. JE26200(e), Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Cairo).

© 2008, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden. Images in panels e and f reproduced from the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, 2008, under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0; these images are not distributed under the terms of the CC0 1.0 license, and further reproduction should adhere to the terms of the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license.

Appendix 1—figure 3
Sources of Late/Ptolemaic period specimens of Papio anubis.

(a) Entrance to the Baboon Catacomb, North Saqqara, discovered in 1968 (Emery, 1969). (b) Niches cut into the walls of the upper gallery. (c) Each niche accommodated a single linen-wrapped baboon in a custom-built rectangular wooden box, infilled with gypsum plaster (Emery, 1970). The capacity of the catacomb was 437 burials (Goudsmit and Brandon-Jones, 1999). (d) Jettisoned osteological remains are present in some niches, possibly the result of Roman-era destruction. Emery, 1969 described the wreckage as a 'frenzy of religious intolerance’. (e) Inventory organized by the 1996 joint expedition mounted by the Egypt Exploration Society and the University of Amsterdam. See Davies, 2006 for detailed object descriptions. In some cases, the skeletal remains of baboons escaped destruction, existing intact and held together by thick layers of bandages. (f) Skulls from the Baboon Catacomb were donated to the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London, in 1969. Detached bone fragments are often present in the specimen boxes, and five such samples were analyzed here. (g) Chamber in the subterranean galleries of Tuna el-Gebel; the baboonification of Thoth is evident in the granite statue at the far end. (h) In the early Ptolemaic period, each niche was fronted by a staircase made of stone slabs, flanked by a pair of conical stone columns that acted as bases for flat bronze offering plates. Between them was a limestone offering-table for libations (Kessler and Nur el-Din, 2005).

Photographs by author NJD.

Appendix 1—figure 4
Recent publication of a global bioavailable strontium isoscape motivated us to consider whether the enamel of EA6748 could have an 87Sr/86Sr ratio (0.707431) that corresponds to areas now devoid of baboons, such as Nubia in northern Sudan and southern Egypt.

(a) Spatial model of the Sr isoscape based on the data set of Bataille et al., 2020, with values mapped using the same color gradient and range of Sr values in our own spatial model (Appendix 1—figure 7). (b) Same, but with a range based on the global mean ±2 SD in the data set of Bataille et al., 2020.

Appendix 1—figure 5
Enamel fragments associated with EA6738.

The detached fragments were found in the specimen box and re-fit to the source tooth to verify association.

Appendix 1—figure 6
Spatial estimation of δ18O values (left) and the spatially distributed estimated error of prediction (right) from Empirical Bayesian Kriging.

Black points indicate specimen locations of modern baboons (n = 55; some points include multiple samples).

Appendix 1—figure 7
Spatial estimation of 87Sr/86Sr ratios (left) and the spatially distributed estimated error of prediction (right) from Empirical Bayesian Kriging.

Black points indicate specimen locations of modern baboons (n = 22; some points include multiple samples). 

Tables

Appendix 1—table 1
Sources and identifications of baboon hair samples, together with corresponding oxygen isotope values (δ18O; ‰, VSMOW) and geoprovenance, as described by collectors, and converted to present-day country names and geographic coordinates in decimal degrees (°, + = N, - = S for Latitude; + = E for Longitude).
SourceAccession/IDδ18OSource description 1Source description 2CountryLatitudeLongitude
NJDQENJD719.8Queen Elizabeth National ParkUganda−0.01035830.0028
AMNH18424718.6W Nile Dist.Koboko Co., UtukiliriUganda3.430.95
BMNH1931.4.1.119.9West Madi, N.P.PuluUganda3.531.5833
BMNH1937.7.24.120.1Laropi, MoyoWest MadiUganda3.5666731.85
AMNH18424815.2W Nile Dist.W. Madi, MoyoUganda3.6496731.7239
PCMUganda17.4Kedef ValleyW. of DodingaSudan433.6667
FMNH6701516.7E EquatoriaTorit 50 mi SE; IkotoSudan4.133.1
FMNH6701619.2E EquatoriaTorit 50 mi SE; IkotoSudan4.133.1
NMNH29967217.6Al-Istiwa’Iyah Ash-SharqiyahToritSudan4.4080632.575
BMNH1900.11.7.119.0R. Omo, L. RudolfEthiopia4.5833336.05
FMNH3290618.0SidamoBoran GateloEthiopia5.9166738.4667
BMNH1967.115219.1R. Cullufubetween L. Abaya and L. ChamoEthiopia637.75
BMNH1967.115119.8southwest corner L. Abayanear Arba MinchEthiopia6.0833337.6667
AMNH8218416.4Bor to ShambeSudan6.3666731.3333
BMNH1964.217418.6Near NW Lake AbayaGamo-GofaEthiopia6.537.8333
FMNH2703418.9ArusiAbul Casim (”Abu el Kassim’)Ethiopia6.737.8833
FMNH2703619.5BaleWebi ShebeliEthiopia7.1666742.2333
FMNH2704317.2Shoa, SalaliAwada R; E side; nr Mt DuroEthiopia7.2327838.8147
BMNH1902.9.2.121.2Waw [Wau], R. Tur [Jur]Bahr el GhazalSudan7.6666728.0667
AMNH8106116.7SidamoAgarasalamEthiopia7.8333336.0667
AMNH8106217.4SidamoAgarasalamEthiopia7.8333336.0667
PCMABYS II 6021.3Hawash6 hr from OulanketiEthiopia8.6751339.4938
CJJ20.0average of 20 P. anubis (Moritz et al., 2012)along Awash River, near fallsEthiopia8.8540.0667
CJJ19.9average of 23 P. hamadryas (Moritz et al., 2012)north of Lake BasakaEthiopia8.9166739.9
FMNH817115.5ArusiMenegeshaEthiopia9.0333338.5833
FMNH2718813.3Shoa, SalaliMugher R; N bank Mulu 25 mi NWEthiopia9.3333340.8
MZUF627819.7GaroeRunSomalia8.848.8667
BMNH1910.10.3.123.2Upper SheikhBritish SomalilandSomalia9.9333345.2
BMNH1902.9.9.319.1Ahuillet, KotaiWest ShoaEthiopia9.9537.9667
FMNH147419.4TogdheerQar Goliis (”Golis’) Mts, Shiikh PassSomalia9.9666745.2
CMZE.7543B17.8SomalilandBerberaSomalia10.433345.0167
FMNH2703518.7GojjamBichenaEthiopia10.4538.2
FMNH2704117.1GojjamJigga 5 mi EEthiopia10.666737.95
FMNH2704218.6GojjamJigga 5 mi EEthiopia10.666737.95
FMNH2703718.8GojjamJigga 5 mi EEthiopia10.666737.95
FMNH2719217.6BegemdirGondarEthiopia12.637.4667
FMNH2719119.0BegemdirGondar 15 mi NEEthiopia12.616737.4833
BMNH1855.12.24.1913.0Subaihi country60 miles NW of AdenYemen12.7543.7
FMNH2719319.3BegemdirMetemma 15 mi SE Gendoa R CampEthiopia12.833336.2833
BMNH1973.181115.6?AdenSouth YemenYemen12.919645.0203
BMNH1920.7.30.120.2Jebel MarraDarfurSudan1324.3333
BMNH1904.8.2.120.9Mountainous countrybehind Lahej, AdenYemen13.016744.9
BMNH1914.3.8.122.7Kamisa, R. DinderSudan13.083334.25
BMNH1914.3.8.222.8Kamisa, R. DinderSudan13.083334.25
DEW10420.5Jebel IrafYemen13.116744.25
FMNH2718318.7BegemdirDevark 30 mi NE GonderEthiopia13.15337.883
DEW5515.3Salah-TaizYemen13.1544.4667
BMNH1902.11.22.121.2Azraki RavineYemen13.533344.65
BMNH1939.102721.9SenafeHabeschEritrea14.716739.4333
DEW3017.3Jebel Bura’aYemen14.943.4833
DEW15214.9Sana’aYemen15.216744.1833
DEW10615.5Bab Al YemenYemen15.216744.1833
PCMABYS I18.1Nr. AsmaraEritrea15.333338.75
MZUF10019.7Ausebopresso Keren, (Bogos?)Eritrea15.783338.45
PCMSudan21.0JebelKassalaSudan17.583338.1
  1. Source abbreviations: American American Museum of Natural History (AMNH); Clifford J. Jolly (CJJ); Derek E. Wildman (DEW); Field Museum of Natural History (FMNH); Museo di Storia Naturale di Firenze, La Specola, University of Florence (MZUF); Nathaniel J. Dominy (NJD); National Museum of Natural History (NMNH); Natural History Museum, formerly the British Museum of Natural History (BMNH); Powell-Cotton Museum (PCM); and University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge (CMZ).

Appendix 1—table 2
Sources and identifications of baboon enamel and bone samples, together with corresponding strontium isotope compositions (87Sr/86Sr) and geoprovenance, as described by collectors, and converted to present-day country names and geographic coordinates in decimal degrees (°, + = N, - = S for Latitude; + = E for Longitude).
SourceAccession/ID(87Sr/86Sr)Source description 1Source description 2CountryLatitudeLongitude
MZUF62780.707604GaroeRunSomalia8.8048.8667
BMNH1927.8.14.10.709239Lower SheikhBritish SomalilandSomalia9.9833345.2167
BMNH1910.10.3.10.707509Upper SheikhBritish SomalilandSomalia9.9333345.20
AMNH821850.712311Bor to ShambeSudan6.3666731.3333
PCMSudan II0.708761EireiribRed Sea Province, KassalaSudan15.4536.40
NJDMFNP60.711806Murchison Falls National ParkUganda2.2772931.4617
NJDMFNP80.711651Murchison Falls National ParkUganda2.2772931.4617
NJDMFNP30.711659Murchison Falls National ParkUganda2.2772931.4617
NJDSEM BAB30.709508Semliki National ParkUganda0.90878130.356
NJDSEM BAB20.708062Semliki National ParkUganda0.90878130.356
NJDQENP50.707549Queen Elizabeth National ParkUganda−0.0103630.0028
AMNH810620.707375SidamoAgarasalamEthiopia7.8333336.0667
AMNH810610.707406SidamoAgarasalamEthiopia7.8333336.0667
PCMABYS I0.707030near AsmaraEritrea15.333338.75
NJDEritrea 10.707788near FilFilEritrea15.616738.9667
NJDEritrea 20.707925near FilFilEritrea15.616738.9667
NJDEritrea 30.709306AsmaraEritrea15.332438.9262
DEWT650 A0.707922Jebel SabirYemen13.583344.20
DEWT650 B0.707937Jebel SabirYemen13.583344.20
MZUF113290.708758Isole FarasanIsola KebirSaudi Arabia16.706541.9076
BMNH1902.11.22.10.708158Azraki RavineSaudi Arabia13.533344.65
BMNH1904.8.2.10.708629mountainous countrybehind Lahej, AdenYemen13.016744.90
MZUF16690.707928Balad (dintorni)Somalia2.3645.39
MZUF32670.707693Giohar, ex VillabruzziSomalia2.7845.50
MZUF30160.707935GelibIsola AlessandraSomalia0.4942.78
MZUF25570.707665AfgoiSomalia2.1445.12
MZUF24600.708416JesommaBulo BurtiSomalia3.8545.57
AMNH2162460.723349Manica and SofalaMozambique−19.2034.85
AMNH2162500.720642InhambaneZinaveMozambique−21.6733.53
AMNH2162470.724701Manica and SofalaMozambique−19.2034.85
AMNH2162490.722069InhambaneZinaveMozambique−21.6733.53
  1. Source abbreviations: American American Museum of Natural History (AMNH); Derek E. Wildman (DEW); Museo di Storia Naturale di Firenze, La Specola, University of Florence (MZUF); Nathaniel J. Dominy (NJD); Natural History Museum, formerly the British Museum of Natural History (BMNH); and Powell-Cotton Museum (PCM). Nota bene: samples from beyond the distributions of Papio anubis and P. hamadryas were excluded from further analysis.

Appendix 1—table 3
Strontium isotope compositions (87Sr/86Sr) of detached bone fragments from skulls recovered from the Baboon Catacomb, North Saqqara, and accessioned in the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London.
Accession numberSpecies87Sr/86Sr±2 sNotes: Groves, 1970
UC30794Papio anubis0.7077750.000006Adult female
UC30796Papio anubis0.7078450.000006Adult female
UC30799Papio anubis0.7078480.000006Juvenile II male
UC30802Papio anubis0.7078480.000006Juvenile I, probably female
UC30803Papio anubis0.7076780.000006Juvenile I, sex indeterminate
UC30804Macaca sylvanus0.7078510.000007Adult male
UC30807Chlorocebus aethiops0.7082090.000008Adult male

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