The ancient mummy, thought to be around 1,500 years old, was originally labelled as a hawk while kept in storage at Cornell College. But once researchers took a digital look through the ancient wrapping, they received quite the surprise. The light-weight 2-pound (942 grams) mummy underwent a CT scan to determine what it actually was.
The scan revealed that one of the creature’s legs had been fractured before getting mummified.
It also exposed the feathers and delicate tissue which have been kept preserved.
Carol Ann Barsody, a masters student in archaeology at Cornell University, said: “Not only was this once a living creature that people of the day may have enjoyed watching stroll through the water.
“It also was, and is, something sacred, something religious.”
The ancient bird is in fact a sacred ibis, known for its stilt-like legs and long curved beak that the ancient Egyptians often sacrificed to Thoth, the Egyptian god of magic and wisdom.
Bizarrely, there is no record of the mummy’s arrival in Cornell University’s records.
At first, it was thought it might have arrived back in 1884 along with other freight objects, including the human mummy Penpi.
But after some digging, it turned out that no other Egyptian artifacts arrived with the human mummy.
Instead, Cornell Univeristy thinks it is more likely the special bird came as part of a 1930 donation by a Cornell alumnus John Randolph.
ibises were common in ancient Egypt and were bred in huge numbers.
The scan also uncovered that the ibis’s head had been twisted round and bent again in the opposite way to its body.
READ MORE: Russia humiliated as flaw found in threat to cover UK in radiation
University of Oxford archaeologist Francisco Bosch-Puche, who has excavated thousands of ibis mummies over the course of his career said: “I often compare it with the candles lit in Christian churches.
“The [ibis] mummy would remind the god that they needed to take care of you.”
While some archaeological and textual accounts have suggested the birds were bred on mass, a study published in the journal PLOS ONE back in 2019 suggested most ibises were actually captured in the wild.
The researchers argued that the birds may have been kept on farms for a short amount of time before being sacrificed and mummified.