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Abstract

Birds were symbolically and pragmatically incorporated into the lives of ancient Egyptians in multiple ways. They appeared as necessary offerings to appease both the gods and the deceased residing in the Underworld. They also served the needs of the living in the form of proteins, fat, and feathers. This dissertation evaluates how the ancient Egyptians fulfilled these needs in avian products, focusing specifically on the management strategies implemented to acquire birds and to maintain them alive in captivity. After a brief overview of the biogeography and avifauna of Egypt, the first section of this dissertation examines the capture of wildfowl, in particular the techniques designed to trap live birds. Analysis of the faunal remains recovered both in domestic and cultic contexts provide insight into the types of feathered game targeted by Egyptians. To exploit these resources, often encountered in the marginal lands bordering the Nile Valley, the central administration placed high officials in charge of overseeing the activities of the men, including fowlers, employed in these areas. The second section of this research project further investigates how institutions, such as temples and large elite estates, managed to keep birds in captivity. A sizable main-d’oeuvre was needed to tend to the welfare of the captive fowl. In order to gain better control over these avian resources, aviculturists attempted to establish breeding programs and managed to domesticate the greylag goose (Anser anser) by the New Kingdom. To conclude this chapter, a model of household poultry husbandry is proposed, which partly relies on ethnographic data collected in 19th and 20th century rural Egypt. The third section of the dissertation acts as an epilogue to this study and presents the changes observed in bird management in Greco-Roman Egypt. New birds such as the chicken rose to prominence in bird farms. Fowlers and aviculturists also developed new techniques to trap and maintain in captivity falcon and sacred ibises destined to serve the needs of Sacred Bird Cults in the form of mummies.

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