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Cats were domesticated considerably later than dogs. The cat mummies included in our collection include both wild and domesticated breeds, according to a doctor of veterinary medicine that examined x-rays of the mummies in 2009.
I love the way that the ancient artist described the cat's fur!
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These cat coffins added value to the mummified cats, that were wrapped in linen and placed inside. These animal mummies were seen as messengers to the gods. Some animals were associated with specific gods and when they died, were mummified, and buried, their souls would travel to the realm of the gods with the ability to convey a request on behalf of the living human. Cats like these were usually an offering to Bastet.
Adding elaborate wooden or bronze coffins, gold gilding, and decoration could make the god you were sending a message to, more inclined to grant your request.
What role did cats play in ancient Egypt?
Both domesticated and wild cats lived amongst the ancient Egyptians. Cats were associated with good night vision and with catching mice and snakes, traits that led to association with certain gods.
Cats were also associated with lions, and both animals were identified for their motherly instincts. For instance, the protective mother goddess Bastet was often depicted as a cat or with the head of a cat.
There were several lion-headed or lioness goddesses as well, including Wadjet, Mut, Shesemtet, Pakhet, and Tefnut.
Because of cats' mythological associations, cat fur, feces, and fat was used in medicine or in magic, while small cats were also used as symbols of fertility and sexuality. They had a lot of roles and associations in Ancient Egypt!
Why did they mummify animals in ancient Egypt?
The ancient Egyptians mummified animals for the same reason they mummified people, kind of. Preserving the body was essential for successfully traveling to the afterlife. Ancient Egyptians wanted the animals to travel to the afterlife so they could bring prayers with them and deliver them directly to the gods.
Were the cats sacrificed? Or did they just die?
Both. Most cats that were mummified to be offered to Bastet and other feline deities were sacrificed for the occasion. Some cats, especially family pets, would have been mummified after they died of some other cause.
Were the cats dead prior to mummification or sacrificed for entrance into the afterlife?
The simple answer is, it depends. Many cats and other animals were sacrificed in order to send their souls to the afterlife. This likely represents a larger proportion of cat mummies.
There is also evidence that pet cats were mummified after having died of natural causes.