Curiosities About Cats in Ancient Egypt

Egyptians were fascinated by animals, and many of them served as gods or an explanation for puzzling phenomena. The animals that held deeper religious and spiritual significance were typically those that were nearest to them and easier for them to see on a regular basis. Egyptians were particularly attached to cats for reasons that are unknown today. They held cats in high regard and they were one of the most revered creatures. Cats were treated as an extension of the family. Here are some curiosities about cats in ancient Egypt.

1. Loss of the Family Cat

The passing of a family cat was seen as a great loss and a tragedy. The Egyptians saw the cats as members of the family, and received as much care as the other members. When a cat passes on, the wealthier folks would mummify it with jewelry and some owners are buried beside their cats. The entire family grieves when the family cat dies. They would shave their eyebrows as a representation of their loss and pain.

2. Cat Species

The Egyptians were the first civilization to domesticate cats. Researchers have identified three species of cats that were kept by the Egyptians. This determination was made from the discoveries of mummified cats in various locations. The most common species was Felis lybica also known as African wildcat. According to scientists, this cat was domesticated. Another breed was the Felis chas commonly known as the jungle cat. Scientists are not certain whether they were domesticated or not. The Felis serval wasn’t as common and wasn’t ingenious as they were imported from Nabia in the south of Egypt.

3. Cats as Guardians and Hunters  

Cats were amazing hunters and symbols of defense. They were kept in Egyptian homes to chase away rodents, mice, scorpions and snakes. Cats were given food, housing and a secure place away from their predators and in exchange, were expected to guard the family members. Studies of ancient Egypt contend that cats were once used to frighten small birds. To kill the bird, a wooden tool shaped like a boomerang is thrown.   

4. Cat Cemeteries

The ancient Egyptians were fond of animals. Archeologists in Egypt discovered the oldest pet cemetery in Berenike which is almost 2000-years-old. A wide range of animals were buried there. It is interesting to note that the animal skeletons of cats, dogs and monkeys were found with some of them being mummified. The records show that there are more cat remains than that of other animals. Cats made up around ninety percent of the animals interred there. Numerous cats wore iron collars or necklaces that were embellished with glass and shells. One was buried on the wing of an enormous bird. The animals were carefully placed in makeshift coffins.

5. Sculptures

Over the years, many cat representations have been found. The Gayer-Anderson Cat Statue, which has captured the attention of numerous authors, artists, and sculptors, is the most well-known and best-preserved. A bronze statue of the Gayer-Anderson cat shows the goddess Bastet in one of her forms. Typically, the goddess was shown as a cat-headed woman or as a cat. This bronze statue most likely originates from a temple. In temples all around Egypt, tens of thousands of bronze statues of gods in various shapes and sizes were dedicated. The statues’ creators wished to interact with the gods. It is believed that the only person who could have afforded to order a piece as exquisite as this cat, embellished with priceless metals, was the monarch or someone exceedingly wealthy. 

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