(Click image to enlarge and see 3D view.)Jackal Figurine with Two Rearing CobrasEgypt, Third Intermediary Period, Dynasty 22, c. 945–712 BCECopper AlloyHMANE1881.16.18Scanned by Andrea Martinez with Artec Spider 3D Scanner

Ancient Egyptian Jackal Figurine, juniorg8.com Museum of the Ancient Near East

A Museum Perspective

This statue of a jackal is accompanied by two rearing cobras that symbolize divine power. Jackals were “top dogs” in ancient Egyptian culture. Anubis, a supreme deity with a jackal or dog-like countenance, presided over mummification and the afterlife. In fact, Egyptian images of Anubis seem to merge the characteristics of jackals, dogs, and foxes. He is depicted as a black canine with pointed ears, or as a muscular man with a head of a canine. His appearance as a jackal may have grown out of the natural behavior of these animals, which likely involved scavenging newly dug and shallow human graves. What better protector from wild jackals than a powerful jackal god? Anubis symbolized both decay and rebirth. He was not only a protector, but also the overseer of all stages of transition from death into the afterlife, including judgment.

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Notice DetailsUse the prompts to manipulate and spin the image of the figurine.Look closely at the craftsmanship. Does the object seem finely made?If the cobras were absent, would that change your perception of the object?

Make Connections…In ancient Egypt, gods like Anubis took on the appearance of animals people feared and helped them to feel protected.Is there an animal you fear?Try turning that fear around by thinking of a positive attribute of that animal.How might you use that attribute to create a symbol of protection, or resilience?

Anubis was not the only Egyptian deity to take the form of a canine. The city of Asyut in Upper Egypt was also home to a similar god known as Wepwawet, meaning “Opener of the Ways (or Roads).” Wepwawet was closely associated with wolves and was depicted as a wolf or man with the head of a wolf. Most popular during the Old Kingdom, this wolf god originated in Upper Egypt and was one of the earliest to be worshipped in the city of Abydos (south of Asyut).

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Often paired with Apis Bull who represented Lower Egypt, Wepwawet may have been a symbol of the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. Closely tied to his name, the role of Wepwawet was to guide individuals through the underworld and help them navigate their life choices or paths. In the Book of the Dead and the book That Which Is in the Underworld (the Amduat), he leads the deceased through the underworld and guards over them on their perilous journey.

Learn more about Wepwawet.

The Egyptian jackal, which may have been the inspiration for the god Anubis, is actually not a jackal at all but a wolf! Originally classified as a type of golden jackal, genetic research has shown that this animal is, in fact, close kin to the European and North American gray wolf. As a result, scientists have renamed it the African wolf.

African wolf. Profberger at English Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 

The Egyptian god Anubis was often depicted as either the figure of a black jackal or a human male with the head of a black jackal. One of Anubis’s main duties was to escort the dead as they transitioned from the living world to the underworld, as well as to protect the resting places of the dead, such as graves and tombs.

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Set Up a Memorial for Someone You Have Lost

This activity is most appropriate for ages ten and up (younger with an adult), and may take as little as twenty minutes, or more, depending on how elaborate you wish to make your memorial. Most of us know someone who has passed away, possibly even someone close to us. By setting up a small memorial in your home, you can serve to protect the memory and traditions of loved ones who have passed. Gather pictures and momentos, draw illustrations, or write messages. You may also wish to use candles (battery LEDs work very well and are safer for long-term use). Use your memorial to show respect and keep alive the memories of those you’ve loved or who have touched your life in an important way.