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Gravediggers: Symbology of Egypt’s Jackal

January 9, 2022
c. Egyptian Museum

Small in size, dog-like in only appearance: Egypt’s prized scavenger is a staple of many histories and a symbol of countless cultures. The jackal is prolific in the region, nosing into bedouin tents when the nights drag and unearthing bones with a devil-may-care expertise. Despite their sweet face, jackals are hardly harmless – which comes as no surprise considering later associations. Topping the heads of countless deities in the Egyptian pantheon, the jackal made its way into folklore and mythology early on and remained throughout history as an iconic, unchallenged symbol of funeral. These opportunistic predators were an identifiable symbol as early on as the Predynastic period (circa. 5200 – 3100 BCE), and relative to the regions they appeared in, they were associated with a wide array of gods. The golden jackal, the one locals and foreigners most associate with Egypt, is a small to medium-sized animal that inhabits the open savanna and desert landscapes. They grow up to 85 centimeters in length, weighing up to 14 kilograms and feeding largely on small animals and carcasses. Despite its size, it’s a fierce animal; short- and sharp-tempered, dubbed the “grave-scavenger” in…

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