Kittens of Egypt
Mummies come in all shapes and sizes--and
species. The ancient Egyptians mummified reptiles and animals such as
dogs, apes, bulls, rams, and even an occasional hippopotamus. However, one
of the most common animal mummies in Egypt was the cat. To determine how,
when, and why cats were mummified, Egyptologists have had to piece
together many clues. It appears, for example, that by 1350 B.C., cats were
occasionally buried with their owners, according to author Jaromir Malek.
But by 900 B.C., a striking change had taken place in the Egyptians'
religious beliefs. Many animals were now thought to be the embodiment of
certain gods and goddesses; cats were believed to represent the goddess
Bastet. Consequently, they were raised in and around temples devoted to
Bastet. When they died, they were mummified and buried in huge cemeteries,
often in large communal graves.
An even more important change took place
over the centuries. From about 332 B.C. to 30 B.C., animals began to be
raised for the specific purpose of being turned into mummies. The mummies
were sold to people on their way to worship a god and left at the temple
as offerings. Scientists have uncovered a gruesome fact: many cats died
quite premature and unnatural deaths. Two- to four-month-old kittens
seemed to have been sacrificed in huge numbers, perhaps, as Malek
supposes, because they fit into the mummy container better. So many cat
mummies were made that researchers can only guess that there were millions
of them. In fact, one company bought 38,000 pounds of cat mummies in the
late 1800s to pulverize and sell as fertilizer in England; this shipment
alone probably contained 180,000 mummified cats.