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Mauritians of the Classic Era worshipped dodos as the incarnation of Dum, the god of naiveté and sloth. Each year at the High Ceremony of the Winter Solstice eight dodos of surpassing perfection were chosen by the haruspices, dressed in gold cloth and brought to live in the royal compound, where they were treated as the children of the king and queen, waited upon by servants and fed from the royal dishes. Eggs laid by the hen dodos during this time could be consumed only by the king, upon completion of the strict purification rituals.

If the birds lived until the High Ceremony of the Summer Solstice, there was great joy among the Mauritians, from the royal couple down to the lowest slave, for that was an omen of great fortune. Should any of them perish in the interim, national mourning was declared, with all Mauritians over the age of 10 required to wear the t'sis'kh, or dirndl of mourning. A state funeral was arranged. 

The traditional dodo burial urn shown here was not manufactured by the Mauritians themselves, for whom the working of metal was taboo. They were instead ordered from Chinese traders who brought the designs to the mainland, where skilled bronze craftsmen of the western Zhou dynasty fabricated and decorated them. The handles were inscribed with a portrait of the Mauritian king on one side and his queen on the other, and ritual prayers were worked into the bronze as it cooled, in the now-lost language of Mauritius.

Upon its return to the island the mummified remains of the expired dodo were placed inside, along with rare spices and the shorn hair of the king and the queen. The urn was then placed in the dodoumbarium of the Great Temple, amid the relics of dodos from time immemorial. 


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"Ritual Dodo Burial Urn"
Mauritius, c. 900-800 BCE 
50 x 26 x 48 cm ~ Bronze

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