Baboon mummy DNA from ancient Egypt reveals location of mysterious port city not on any maps

The skull of a mummified baboon recovered from ancient Thebes (modern-day Luxor), Egypt that was connected isotopically to the region of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. It is now held in the British Museum. (Image credit: © Trustees of the British Museum; (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED))

Ancient Egyptians traded with people in what is today coastal Eritrea to bring baboons to their temples, according to a new study of baboon mummy DNA.

Ancient Egyptians were big fans of baboons, which they associated with the god Babi, a god of the underworld and the deity Thoth, who was sometimes depicted with the head of a baboon. They kept the monkeys in captivity, removing their sharp incisors so they were less dangerous, and often mummified them as offerings to the gods. But as far as anyone can tell, baboons have never naturally occurred in Egypt, said Gisela Kopp, a geneticist at the University of Konstanz in Germany and the leader of a new study on the baboon DNA.

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