8 million mummified animals, mostly dogs, in catacombs at Egypt site

Archaeologist Salima Ikram examines the mummified remains of an adult dog in a wall niche.

Story highlights

  • Archaeologists explore the catacombs of Anubis, an Egyptian god that's half-dog, half-human
  • They estimate more than 8 million animals, mostly dogs, were stacked there wrapped in bandages
  • "We hadn't expected that there would be so many animals," lead Egyptologist says

(CNN)For centuries, dogs have been humans' loyal, domesticated companions. They've been wild animals, doing what's needed to survive. And in ancient Egypt, they served as bridges to the afterlife, with the hope that they'd intercede with the god Anubis on their owner's behalf.

But only now is it becoming known the extent to which dogs served this latter role -- 8 million times over.
That is the number of dead animals, most of them dogs, estimated to have laid in the catacombs of Anubis around Saqqara, one of Egypt's most historic and oft-visited sites, according to a group of British researchers. While such mass burials aren't unprecedented, given the numerous animal cults of ancient Egypt, this one's scale makes it unique.