Mummified dogs are not a new archaeological discovery, but finding bloodsucking parasites on them is. Over 400 dog mummies unearthed from the El Deir excavation site in Egypt have been found, and one young dog among them was infested with a number of parasites that have been preserved.
There were over 60 ticks found on this poor dog and there was one louse, too. The scientists who found this dog suspect that a tick-born disease that kills red blood cells was probably responsible for the death of this dog at such a young age. Besides the ticks and the louse, remains of two types of fly larvae were found on it, suggesting that the dog’s body had time to attract carrion flies prior to being mummified.
Mummifying animals was common in ancient Egypt. It was done to provide food and companionship for people in the afterlife and to make sacrifices to the gods, yet nobody is sure of the reasons for the dog mummies at El Deir. It is unclear if they had specific human guardians or how they died. Perhaps they were purposely bred to be sacrificed as cats commonly were, but we just don’t know.
Scientists involved with this excavating project are exploring questions about the source of the dogs. They are also hoping to find more parasites on the dog mummies in order to investigate the origin and spread of diseases and to deepen our understanding of the role of parasites in the history of the species.
Evidence that ancient dogs suffered from ticks, lice and other ectoparasites is prevalent in ancient writings such as those of Aristotle, Homer and Pliny the Elder, but this is the first archaeological evidence that corroborates those texts. It’s certainly no surprise that dogs living a couple of thousand years ago faced the danger and nuisance of ticks and lice. It would be astounding if it were a recent development in the lives of canids, but it’s still interesting to have such concrete evidence.