If you meet a time-traveling ancient Egyptian, talk about birds

The next time you come across an ancient Egyptian mummy in a museum, rather than thinking of looming pyramids and cursed tomb robbers, consider this: that mummy was probably a better birder than you are.

Okay, I don’t know if the ancient Egyptians would have considered it “birding” – I doubt they maintained life lists. But they certainly knew their birds to a degree that I doubt many in the modern era could equal. The Oriental Institute’s exhibit “Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt”¬†showcases just how thoroughly birds permeated every aspect of ancient Egyptian life. They painted birds and sculpted them, drew them in their writing as hieroglyphs, raised and shepherded and ate them, and saw their gods embodied in their forms.

Barn Owl sculpture. Owls were unusual in Egyptian art for being depicted face-on instead of in profile.Photo Anna Ressman. Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Barn Owl sculpture. Owls were unusual in Egyptian art for being depicted face-on instead of in profile, as most animals (including humans) were.
Photo by Anna Ressman. Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

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