This small (8 .2 x 7.5cm) copper alloy statuette depicts the sacred Apis bull. It is recognisable – among other features not preserved – by the remains of a sun disk between its curved horns. The bull was at the centre of an elaborate cult, and was believed to be the earthly incarnation of the Memphite god Ptah. Only one living Apis was recognised at any one time, in a system not unlike the selection of the Dalai Lama. The sacred bull was selected by priests who travelled the length of the land looking for an animal with the correct markings. Once installed, Apis was housed in a temple on the outskirts of Memphis. There he was afforded every luxury – including a ‘harem’ of cows – and was regularly visited by pilgrims, who interpreted his movements in relation to petitions put to him. After death, the bull was mummified and given an elaborate burial in a set of catacombs – called the Serapeum – located on the Saqqara desert plateau (see opposite, top right).
This figurine is just one of many thousands of images of various gods given as votive offerings at a range of temples. Many examples, such as this, were excavated by the Egypt Exploration Society at the site of Saqqara. Saqqara was the home to the Sacred Animal Necropolis, the centre for the veneration and dedication of sacred animals in the Late Period (c. 750-330 BC). These were found in a pit within the enclosure of the Sacred Animal Necropolis temples. They had, according to excavator Bryan Emery, been “arranged in an orderly manner”.