London: Three dimensional imaging of a mummified kestrel that died due to forced overeating provides evidence that the ancient Egyptians bred birds of prey and mummified them as offerings for the gods, says a new study.
The digital CT (computer tomography) scans revealed that the kestrel was force-fed its last meal - a mouse - suggesting it was kept in captivity.
This is the first evidence to point to mass breeding of raptors as offerings to gods, said the study.
Animal mummies were common in ancient Egypt and used in religious ceremonies, often as offerings.
Millions of mummified animals have been found, most dating from around 600 BC to AD 250.
Ancient Egyptians believed in many gods and associated different animals with them; raptors like kestrels were connected to the sun god Ra.
"The idea of birds of prey being bred to the extent of being kept and force-fed is new," said lead author of the study Salima Ikram, professor of egyptology at the American University in Cairo, Egypt.
"Until now, the sheer number of raptor mummies had been a mystery - did they catch or trap them and kill them, raid nests, or find them dead? Our results explain why they had so many: we now think it was because of active breeding," Ikram said.
In ancient Egypt, birds used as votive offerings were prepared by being gutted and dried, then dipped into molten resin and wrapped.
However, sometimes the birds were not gutted, giving the researchers a chance to take a glimpse into one particular bird's life before it died.
For the study, the researchers carried out a virtual autopsy on a bird mummy from Iziko Museums of South Africa in Cape Town.
The study was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.