How now, modified cow?: the physical modification of cattle in Egyptian art and its welfare implications
thesisposted on 29.03.2022, 00:13 by Laura R. E. Harris
Cattle were important agriculturally and religiously to the ancient Egyptians and as a result they are depicted frequently in art. In some of these representations, cattle are depicted with or undergoing a physical modification of their bodies. Many studies have arisen in the last fifty years about or including cattle, but they focus on how cattle served the Egyptians and not how their handling may have affected the animals themselves. This appears to result from the assumption that the Egyptians were deeply connected with the animal world. Recently, scholars have challenged this assumption through a re-examination of art and archaeological material. However, the modification of cattle has not received the same attention. This thesis investigated a selection of the practices used by the Egyptians to modify their cattle, as represented in two-dimensional art scenes from elite tombs in the New Kingdom period (c.1550-1069 BC). Specifically, horn deformation, overgrown hooves, and physical adornment were examined. Due to the damage suffered in many tombs and the possibility that some of these modifications could be interpreted as artistic variation, the corpus was supplemented with scenes from New Kingdom temples, and also archaeological and textual evidence. The process, purpose and welfare implications of each modification was determined. To aid interpretation, ethnographic and veterinary studies were also considered. Evaluation of each modification practice revealed that, on balance, the Egyptians did not practice animal welfare with regard to their cattle.