What Ancient Egyptian Shrew Mummies Reveal About Small Mammal Responses to Climate Change

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The Challenge: Ancient Egyptians mummified animals for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was as votive offerings to certain deities. Among the six species of shrews that have been identified as mummies, one is now extinct, one is no longer occurs in Egypt, and the remaining four have more restricted distributions in the country. One of the latter species also exhibits significantly decreased body size.

The Science: Work continues on taxonomic issues in order to be able to identify mummified shrews with confidence. Two modern species were originally named on the basis of mummified remains, but the original type material was considered lost.  Crucial to this, the scientist rediscovered the original type material for one species and is seeking the type material for the other. 

The Future: The the scientist is working with colleagues from Germany and Egypt to identify promising sources of mummies for study of ancient vs. modern patterns of distribution and morphological variation to determine whether and how mammalian species have responded to long-term regional aridification.