AO 8:04, Jul/Aug 2005
The Evidence: Funerary Stelae
The Apis Bull Inscriptions
Ancient Egyptians worshiped Apis bulls as manifestations, or heralds, of Ptah, the creator-god of Memphis, 15 miles south of modern Cairo. The Apis cult stretches back to the earliest dynasties, and the bulls themselves were associated with the pharaoh. Only one Apis bull at a time was chosen to preside over the cult; when that bull died, there was national mourning, the embalmed bull was transported in procession from Memphis to nearby Saqqara, where it was buried in underground catacombs known as the Serapeum, and a new bull was chosen.
In 1850 the French archaeologist Auguste Mariette discovered the Serapeum at Saqqara. The catacombs contained mummified bulls, massive stone sarcophagi (such as the one shown) and—especially important for chronologists—inscribed stelae dedicated by high priests at the death of each Apis bull.