Ancient Egyptian Cattle
Egyptian Cattle
Scientific Classification
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Artiodactyla
Family Bovidae
Genus Bos
Species B. aegyptiacus
Conservation Status

Egyptian cattle were a domesticated form of cattle kept by the Ancient Egyptians. They are of uncertain origin.

Sources and origins

The earliest evidence for them is from the Fayum region, dating back to the 8th millennium BC. In the past the type was given its own species name, Bos aegyptiacus, but it is now regarded as part of the same scientific taxon as other domestic cattle: either Bos taurus or Bos primigenius subspecies taurus.

Ancient Egyptian cattle did not have a hump. They either had large widespread horns, which arched first inward and then outward, or shorter horns which had the same structure. According to Egyptian art, they were coloured either black, brown, brown and white, white spotted, black and white, or white.

It is uncertain as to where Egyptian cattle originated, as some claim that they were acquired from the Levant or Mesopotamia while others claim that it was domesticated independently from a North African subspecies of the Aurochs, Bos primigenius mauretanicus. There is evidence for both sides as cattle had been domesticated in the Levant by the 8th millennium BC but excavations of early Holocene western Sahara show that indigenous cattle existed previous to the 8th millennium.

Role in Egypt

They were important to the Ancient Egyptians who put them out to pasture on land that couldn't be farmed on, either because it was too far from the Nile to irrigate or in the Nile delta (and thus too wet to farm). The Egyptians used them for food, milk, leather, and sacrifice.

Ancient Egyptian cattle came to be considered so important that many Egyptian gods were considered to have the form of cattle, notable deities being Hathor, Ptah (as the Apis Bull), Menthu (as the Bukha bull), and Atum-Ra (as the Mnevis Bull). Many were mummified.

During the New Kingdom the Zebu, hump-backed cattle from Syria were introduced to Egypt and the earlier form seems to have slowly been replaced by these new cattle.

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