• Karen Frost

Chapters 19-20: Camels, Golden Wolves, Falcons, and Vultures, Oh My!

Chapter 20 in particular is all about the fauna of Egypt.


In Arabic, a camel is sometimes poetically called "safina al-sahra," which means "ship of the desert." When you think about it, it makes sense that while the coastal European countries like Portugal, Spain, and England were able to send galleons to sea for trade, the equivalent for the landlocked Arabs was camels. While weird looking, camels are actually pretty cool. Dromedaries, the camel species found in the Middle East and North Africa, are perfectly adapted to their environment. They have three sets of eyelids and two rows of eyelashes to keep sand out of their eyes, and they can totally shut their nostrils during sandstorms. They can even run up to 40 miles per hour--which is almost as fast as a racehorse (and the reason why camels are, in fact, raced) and about as fast as an ostrich--in short bursts or 25 miles per hour for an hour. (their "amble speed" aka walking speed is about 3 miles per hour). Camels are estimated to have been domesticated around 3000 BCE, meaning they were domesticated thousands of years after horses.

The Golden Wolf

Anubis (a god of death as well as mummification, embalming, the afterlife, cemeteries, tombs, and the underworld) was usually drawn as a dog or a man with a dog's head. While he is commonly believed to have a jackal's head, in point of fact, the "African golden jackal" was discovered in 2015 to fall into the wolf family. Thus Anubis is actually an African golden wolf. These wolves are found throughout Africa and are 72% gray wolf and 28% Ethiopian wolf. Within the genus, the Egyptian wolf looks particularly like the gray wolf. Golden wolves do not travel in packs, unlike some jackals. Per wikipedia: "The basic social unit is a breeding pair, followed by its current offspring, or offspring from previous litters staying as 'helpers.'" Although I wasn't able to find the traveling speed of the golden wolf, a jackal can run for 10 mph for extended periods of time, and it seems logical the wolves could do something similar.

The Lanner Falcon

As everyone knows, the Egyptians loved the combination of animal and god. Hippo, lion, ram, cat, bird, crocodile--most of the Egyptian gods were either depicted as being fully animal or having animal heads. One of these was Seker/Sokar. Long story short, Seker was usually depicted as a mummified hawk and was considered one of the gods of the underworld (according to this website, he was also he was also "the patron of the workers who built the necropolis, the craftsmen who made tomb artefacts, and of those who made ritual objects and substances used in mummification." In The Journey of Ra, he's described as ruling the Fifth Kingdom of Night, and tasked with punishing the souls of evildoers by throwing them into a burning lake for all eternity. Fun times.). The falcon upon which Seker would have been modeled was the Lanner falcon, which is a medium-sized falcon that lives in North Africa, the Middle East, and even Europe. He could, conversely, have been the peregrine falcon, which lives on six continents, including along the Nile River. Seker wasn't the only falcon-headed god, however. In addition to the well-known Horus, there was also Khonsu, Montu, and Ra.

The Egyptian Vulture

When it comes to ancient Egypt, little is more iconic than the vulture. The vulture was the symbol of Upper Egypt, and vultures were believed to protect the pharaohs (the goddess Nekhbet was frequently portrayed in vulture form spreading her wings over the pharaoh). In reality, the Egyptian vulture has a large habitat that spans not only Africa but Europe and Central Asia. It's a migratory bird that's also one of the few birds associated with tool use. They are almost totally silent, but per wikipedia "make high-pitched mewing or hissing notes at the nest and screeching noises when squabbling at a carcass. Young birds have been heard making a hissing croak in flight. They also hiss or growl when threatened or angry."


Speaking of gods, the god Osiris played many roles in the ancient Egyptian religion. He was the god of fertility, agriculture, the afterlife, the dead, resurrection, and life. Basically, everything the ancient Egyptians would have cared most about. He was the lord of the underworld, chief judge of the dead, firstborn of the sky and earth gods. According to Wikipedia: "The kings of Egypt were associated with Osiris in death – as Osiris rose from the dead so they would be in union with him, and inherit eternal life through a process of imitative magic." Interestingly, in iconography Osiris was often depicted as a mummified pharaoh, and in fact, pharaohs were mummified to resemble him. Per the Ancient History Encyclopedia: "Their appearance as Osiris himself would not only remind them of the god but also would drive away dark spirits by fooling them into thinking one was the great god himself. The king's appearance as modeled after Osiris' extended throughout his reign; the famous flail and shepherd's staff, synonymous with Egyptian pharaohs, were first Osiris' symbols as the flail represented the fertility of his land while the crook symbolized the authority of his rule." Per the Encyclopedia Britannica, the pharaoh at death became Osiris, and the dead king’s son, the living king, was identified with Osiris's son Horus, which is kind of an awesome way to view the passage of kingship.

Three final notes:

1. In chapter 20, Anna references a dagger found in King Tut's tomb. In point of fact, the reason the dagger hadn't rusted in 3,300 years was that it was forged from iron taken from a meteorite. Based on the percentages of nickel and cobalt in the dagger, researchers were even able to identify the exact meteorite from which it came: a meteorite that landed 150 miles west of Alexandria. How cool is that? Someone trekked out to that meteorite just to get metal for a pharaoh's dagger.

2. Anna reads a partial curse from a statue. That is--allegedly--a true curse, and in full it reads: "Cursed be those who disturb the rest of a Pharaoh. They that shall break the seal of this tomb shall meet death by a disease that no doctor can diagnose.” This quote was identified by the famous Egyptian Egyptologist Zahi Hawass. Hawass has a reputation as a bit of a showboater, so it's also technically possible he fudged the truth a little. In reality, curses like that were super rare.

3. The Lee-Enfield rifle was the main gun used by soldiers of the British Empire and Commonwealth, in use from 1895 until 1957. It was standard issue during WWI and therefore would easily have been found in places like Egypt, where fighting happened and troops were deployed. Unexpectedly, it's still used by the Bangladesh Police!

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