What is the history of the piece?
This cat was mummified as an offering to the goddess Bastet who was often depicted with the head of a cat. Bastet and cats themselves were associated with protection because cats are very maternal and are also known to kill vermin like mice!
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.
Why is the cat mummy so long?
The cat mummy is long both because of the way the animals corpse was positioned in the wrappings and the fact that the wrapping itself adds extra padding. It's a surprisingly simple explanation, I know. If you look at some of the more elaborate mummies than the cat one in the last room, you'll notice that their decoration is actually compensating for a lack of a complete mummy inside. The cat mummy, meanwhile, does in fact have a full set of remains.
More about this please.
Of course! This cat was mummified as an offering to the goddess Bastet, who was often depicted with the head of a cat. Bastet and cats were associated with protection because cats are very maternal and known to kill vermin like mice.
The mummies would be buried with prayers, either written on papyrus or spoken. Once the animal was buried, the could was thought to travel to the realm of the gods and convey the person's message to the god the animal was associated with. In this case, Bastet!
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.