Animals in Ancient Egypt

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Crocodiles from the New Kingdom

Crocodiles from the New Kingdom

Mostly, the same kinds of animals lived in ancient Egypt as in other parts of Africa. Wild animals included crocodiles, who lived in the Nile River water (and there are still lots of crocodiles in the Nile today, too!). There were lots of water birds like herons and cranes and ibises who lived along the banks of the Nile (and still do today).

Hippopotamus statue from the New Kingdom

Hippopotamus statue from the New Kingdom

People were most afraid of the hippopotamus, which was a fierce animal that lived in the river. Hippos look cute when you see them at the zoo, but they kill many people every year even today. Hippos mainly lived Nile River valley to live in Egypt. Less scary creatures also lived along the Nile river: frogs and lizards and fish, and many ducks and geese.

A carving of a gazelle on a hair comb (1300s BC, now in the Cleveland Museum of Art)

A carving of a gazelle on a hair comb (1300s BC, now in the Cleveland Museum of Art)

On the land, away from the river, Egypt had a lot of wild gazelles. People hunted these gazelles with dogs and bows and arrows. They ate gazelles for food.

As that mention of dogs suggests, people who lived in ancient Egypt had tame (domesticated) animals as well. The first animals they had were probably dogs. By around 4000 BC, they got domesticated donkeys from their neighbors to the south in Sudan. Donkeys were very useful to carry things and helped Egyptians do a lot more trading with Sudan and also with West Asia.

Donkeys in Old Kingdom Egypt

Donkeys in Old Kingdom Egypt

Soon the Egyptians also got other domesticated animals from West Asia: pigs, cattle, sheep and goats. In the Second Intermediate Period, about 1600 BC, the first horses came to Egypt from Central Asia.

Cat from Old Kingdom Egypt

Cat from Old Kingdom Egypt

Most famously, families in ancient Egypt kept a lot of cats as pets. The Egyptians may have been the first people to keep pet cats, perhaps starting around 7500 BC. But it’s also possible that West Asian people were the first to keep cats as pets. All these animals, coming from all sides of Egypt, show how Egypt was rich because it was located at a sort of crossroads between Africa and West Asia. This was where the good (and bad) things from many different places came together.

Learn by doing: Egyptian tomb painting
More about the environment of ancient Egypt
Bibliography and further reading about Egyptian animals:

More about the Egyptian environment
More about ancient Egypt
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By | 2017-06-13T12:21:37+00:00 June 13th, 2017|Africa, Egypt, Environment|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Animals in Ancient Egypt. Quatr.us Study Guides, June 13, 2017. Web. December 11, 2017.

About the Author:

Karen Carr

Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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