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roebucks, and beavers of common occurrence in turf-
bogs, and all bones of the human race, and of domestic
animals found in the deposites of rivers, in burial
grounds, and in fields of battle.
None of these remains belong either to the vast
deposite of the great catastrophe, or to those of the
ages preceding that wonderful event.








EVERY one has heard of the Ibis, the bird to which
the ancient Egyptians paid religious worship; which
they brought up in the interior of their temples,
which,they allowed to stray unharmed through their
cities, and whose murderer, even though involuntary,
was punished by death;(1) which they embalmed with
as much care as their own parents. To this bird was
attributed a virgin purity; an inviolable attachment to
their country, of which they were made the emblem, an
attachment of such force that they would die with
hunger if removed elsewhere; a bird which possessed
sufficient instinct to know the increase and wane of the
moon, and regulated accordingly the quantity of its
daily nourishment, and the development of its young;
which checked, at the very frontiers of Egypt, the

(1) Herod, 1, 2



which would have carried destruction into this sacred
land,(1) and inspired them with so much terror, that
they even feared their feathers;(2) this bird, whose
form the gods themselves would have assumed if
compelled to adopt a mortal shape, and into which
Mercury was really transformed when he desired to
travel over the earth, and teach men the arts and
Not any other animal could be as easily recogni
sable as this one; for there is no other of which the
ancients have left us, as they have of the ibis, such
admirable descriptions, figures so exact and even
coloured, and the body itself carefully preserved with
its feathers under the triple covering of a bituminous
preservation of thick linen in many folds, and in
vessels solid and highly varnished.
And yet, of all modern writers who have spoken of
the ibis, Brace alone — a traveller more celebrated for
his courage than the accuracy of his notions on natural
history — has not been in error regarding the true
species of this bird; and his ideas in this respect, exact
as they were, have not been adopted by other
naturalists. (3)
After many changes of opinion concerning the ibis,
it was apparently agreed, at the period, when I
published the first edition of this work, to give the
name of ibis to a bird a native of Africa, nearly the
size of the stork, with white plumage, and the plumes
of the wings black, perched on long red legs, with a
long beak, arched with cutting edges, rounded at the
base, jagged at the point, of a pale yellow

(1) Ælian, lib. 2, c. xxxv. and xxxviii.
(2) ibid. lib. i. c. xxxvrn.
(3) Bruce's French translation, in 8vo. v. xiii. p. 264, and Atlas plate
xxxv. under the name Abouhannes.



colour, and with its face covered with a red skin
without plumage which does not go farther than its
Such is the ibis of Perrault,(1) the white ibis of
Brisson,(2) the white ibis of Egypt of Buffon,(3) and
the tantalus ibis of Linnæus, in his twelfth edition.
It was to this very bird, that M. Blumenbach, at the
same time confessing its rarity at the present day, at
least in Lower Egypt, asserted that the Egyptians paid
divine honours;(4) and yet M. Blumenbach had an
opportunity of examining the skeleton of a real
mummy ibis, which he opened in London. (5) I was in
the same error as these learned men whom I have just
mentioned, until I had an opportunity of examining by
myself some mummies of the ibis.
This pleasure was first procured for me by the late
M. Fourcroy, to whom M. Grrobert, colonel of
artillery, returning from Egypt, had given two of these
mummies, both taken from the pits of Saccara. On
unfolding them carefully, we perceived that the bones
of the embalmed bird were much

(1) Description of an ibis, and two storks. Acad. des
Sciences of Paris, v. iii. pl. iii. p. 61, 4to. ed. 1754, pl. xiii. fig.
1. The beak is represented as truncated at the end, a fault of
the engraver.
(2) Numenius sordide albo rufescens, capite anteriore nudo
rubro; lateribus rubro purpureo et cameo colore maculatis,
remigibus majoribus nigris, rectricibus sordide albo
rufescentibus, rostro in exorta dilute luteo, in extremitate
aurantio, pedibus griseis. ibis candida Brisson Ornithologie,
vol. v. p. 349.
(3) 'Planches Enluminées,' nrum. 389. Hist. des Oiseaux,
viii. in 4to. p. 14, pl. 1. The last figure is copied from
Perrault, with the same fault.
(4) Handbuch der. Naturgeschichte, p. 203, of the edit.
1799, but in the edition of 1807, he has restored the name of
ibis to the bird to which it belongs.
(5) Philosophical Transactions, for 1794.



smaller than those of the tantalus ibis of naturalists;
that they were but very little larger than those of the
curlew; that the beak resembled that of the latter, only
being somewhat shorter in proportion to its thickness,
and not at all similar to that of the tantalus; in fact,
that its plumage was white, with the plumes of the
wing marked with black, as stated by the ancients.
We were then convinced that the bird embalmed by
the ancient Egyptians was certainly not the tantalus
ibis of naturalists; that it was smaller, and that it must
be of the curlew genus.
We learnt, after some research, that the ibis
mummies opened before by other naturalists were
similar to our own. Buffon expressly says, that he had
examined many; that the birds they contained had the
beak and size of curlews, and yet he blindly follows
Perrault, in taking the tantalus of Africa for the ibis.
One of these mummies opened by Buffon is still in
the Musuem, and is similar to those which we have
Dr. Shaw in the supplement to his travels (fol. edit.
Oxford, 1746, plate 5, pp. 64 to 66,) describes and
depicts with care the bones of a similar mummy, the
beak, he says, was six English inches in length, like
that of the curlew, &c. In a word, his account exactly
tallies with our own examination.
Caylus (Recueil d'antiquitiés,vol. vi. pl. 11, fig. 1,)
represents the mummy ibis, as only one foot seven
inches high, including its bandages, al though he
expressly says, that the bird was then placed on its
feet, with the head erect, and that no part of it had
been bent in the embalming.
Hasselquist, who took a small black and white



heron for the ibis, gives as his prindpnl reason, that
the size of this bird, which is that of a crow,
corresponds very well with the size of the mummies of
the ibis.(1) How then could Linnæus give the name of
ibis to a bird as large as a stork? How indeed could he
consider this bird as the same with the ardea ibisof
Hasselquist, which besides its smallness, had a straight
beak? And how could this latter error of synonomy
have been perpetuated in the Systema Naturæ, down to
the present time?
A short time after the examination made with M.
Fourcroy, M. Olivier had the complaisance to show us
some bones which he had brought from two mummies
of the ibis, and to open two others with us. The bones
there found resembled those of the mummies of
colonel Grobert, only one of the four was smaller, but
it was easy to judge by the epiphyses, that it. had
belonged to a young individual.
The only drawing of the, beak of an embalmed ibis,
which does not entirely agree with those which we
examined, was that of Edwards (plate cv.;) it is a ninth
larger, and yet we do not question its accuracy; for M.
Olivier showed us also the length, an eighth or ninth
longer than the others, in proportion of 180 to 165
equally taken from a mummy.See Fig. 10.
This beak only shows that there were among the ibis
species, individuals larger than others, but proves
nothing in favour of the tantalus, for it has not the
same shaped beak as that; it precisely resembles the
curlew; and, besides, the beak of the

(1) Hasselquist Iter Palestinum, p. 249, magnitudo gallinæ, seu cornicis,
and p. 250, vasa quæ in sepulcris inveniuntur, cum avibus conditis, hujus
sunt magnitudinis.



tantalus is a third larger than that of our large em
balmed ibises, and two-fifths that of the smallest.
We are, moreover, assured that there are similar
variations in the size of our European curlews, ac
cording to age and sex; they are still larger in the
green curlews of Italy, and in our pewits (barges;) and
it appears that this is a property common to the greater
part of the species of long-billed (becasses) birds.
Finally, our naturalists returned from the expedition
to Egypt with a rich harvest of. objects, ancient as
wel1 as modern. My learned friend, M. Geoffroy St.
Hilaire, particularly occupied himself in collecting,
with great care, mummies of every sort, and had
brought a great number of those of the ibis, as well
from Saccara as from Thebes.
The former were in the same state as those brought
by M. Grobert; that is to say, that their bones had
experienced a kind of half combustion, and were
without consistency; they broke on the least touch, and
it was very difficult to procure one enntire, still more
to detach them so as to form a skeleton.
The bones of those of Thebes were much better
preserved, either from the greater heat of the climate,
or from the greater care bestowed in their preparation;
and M. Geoffroy having sacrificed several of them, my
assistant, M. Rousseau, contrived, by the exercise of
patience, skill, and ingenious and delicate methods, to
form an entire skeleton, by stripping all the bones, and
uniting them with a fine wire thread. This skeleton has
been placed in the museum, of which it forms one of
the most striking ornaments. We subjoin an engraving
of it. See Fig. 7.
We remark that this mummy must have been



that of one kept in a state of domesticity in the
temples; for the left shoulder has been broken and then
united. It is probable that a wild bird, whose wing was
broken, would die before it healed, for want of
strength to pursue its prey, or power to escape from its
This skeleton enables us to determine unhesitatingly
the character and proportions of the bird: we clearly
see that it was in every respect a real curlew, rather
larger than that of Europe, but with its beak thicker
and shorter. We subjoin a comparative table of the
dimensions of these two birds, taken for the ibis, from
the skeleton of the mummy of Thebes, and for the
curlew, from a skeleton which was formerly in our
anatomical galleries. We have added those of the parts
of the ibises of Saccara which we have been enabled to
obtain entire.



IMAGE Revolutions07.jpg



We see by this table that the ibis of Thebes was
larger than our curlew; that one of the ibises of
Saccara was of the medium size between that of Thebes
and our curlew; and that the other was smaller than
this latter bird. We observe also, that the different
parts of the body of the ibis have not the same
proportions to each other as those of the curlew have.
The beak of the former, for instance, is remarkably
shorter, although all the other parts are larger, &c.
Yet these differences of proportion do not go
beyond what may distinguish the species of the same
genus; the form and character which are to be
considered as generic, are precisely similar.
The true ibis, then, must be sought no longer
amongst these tall tantali with a sharp beak, but
amongst the curlews; and here we should note that by
the word curlew(courlis) we do not mean the artificial
genus formed by Latham and Gmelin, of all long-
shanked (echaissiers) birds, with a beak curved
downwards, and a head devoid of plumage, whether the
beak be rounded or sharp, — but a natural genus,
which we shall call numenius, and which will include
all the long-shanked birds with beaks curved
downwards, soft and rounded, whe ther their head be
devoid of, or covered with, plumage. It is the curlew
genus, such as Buffon has imagined it.(1)
A glance over the collection of birds in the king's
cabinet enables us to recognise a species which has not
been yet either named or described by authors of
systems, except perhaps Mr. Latham, and

(1) We have definitely established this genus in our 'Regne Animal,' vol.
i. p. 483, and it appears to have been adopted by naturalists.

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