From an interesting article in National Geographic this week:
Between roughly 650 and 250 B.C., ancient Egyptians sacrificed staggering numbers of mummified ibises to Thoth, god of magic and wisdom, who was depicted with a human body and the distinctive long-beaked head of the bird. Archaeologists have found literally millions of these votive offerings in ancient Egyptian necropolises, where the bird mummies were interred after being offered to Thoth to cure illnesses, gift long life, or even sort out romantic troubles...The study revealed a DNA diversity in the mummies more consistent with widespread harvesting rather than local farming. Not everyone agrees:
Due to the sheer scale of the ibis mummy industry, many Egyptologists have assumed that the bird—specifically the African sacred ibis (T. aethiopicus)—was deliberately bred in large centralised farms. This assumption has been bolstered by archaeological and textual evidence for large-scale bird-raising operations. However, a study published today in the journal PLOS ONE suggests that most ibises were actually captured in the wild and possibly kept on farms for only short periods of time before being sacrificed and mummified.
But archaeologist Bosch-Puche, who was not a part of the study, believes that the birds were indeed bred in captivity, due to signs of healed fractures and infectious diseases seen in ibis mummies that are similar to those documented in modern captive animal populations that have little genetic diversity...Data, discussion, and more images at the PLOS ONE article.
The new DNA research also may help answer a bigger question of why the African sacred ibis eventually went extinct in Egypt by the mid-19th century.