Mummy of a cat
MUMMY OF A CAT
This is an exhibit that draws the attention of a lot of children in particular, because they find the mummified cat so sad. The mummy is that of a juvenile Felis silvestris lybica (small domestic cat) between 9 and 12 months old from the Greco-Roman period. The mummy is in perfect condition except for part of the spine: practically all of the cervical vertebrae have been displaced.
How do we know about these displaced cervical vertebrae? The mummy was photographed with help of an X-ray machine. However, the fact that the cervical vertebrae of this small young cat had been displaced came as no surprise: this is the case with nearly all mummified cats. Their necks were broken and stretched to give the mummy the desired shape.
In ancient Egypt all kinds of animals were mummified: rams, baboons, crocodiles, dogs and so on. Cats were mummified on a colossal scale. They were sacrificed to – among others – Bastet, goddess of joy and music, who is usually represented as a woman with a cat’s head. Pilgrims bought mummified cats which had been bred especially for this purpose. They were killed when they were between one and four months old, or between the ages of nine and twelve months.
The pilgrims presented the mummified cats to a priest at a temple, who then buried them. Throughout Egypt cat cemeteries have been found containing millions of mummified cats. There were so many of them that some hundred years ago their pulverized remains were scattered over the land as manure.
It is thought that so many cat mummies have been found because they were relatively cheap sacrifices for pilgrims – a lot cheaper than the stone or bronze cat statues that were fashionable among Egyptians in the Greco-Roman era.