180,000 cat mummies ground into fertilizer in UK

This is a fascinating – and slightly horrifying – story from the 19th century. 🙀

Here’s the story: in the 1800s, there was a booming trade in mummies and mummy parts. Egyptians mummified a lot of animals, especially cats, which were sacred creatures in their culture. Victorians, however, didn’t see these mummies as cultural artifacts, but rather as a source of potential profit.

Ancient Egyptian cat mummy in a tomb
Ancient Egyptian cat mummy in a tomb. The image is free to use under an unconditional Creative Commons licence as it was created for me by an artificial intelligence computer to my instructions and therefore, I believe that I own the copyright. If you click on the image, you will be taken to the original which you can download by right clicking on the image and following the menu instructions.
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One British company bought a whopping 180,000 mummies, weighing almost 19.5 tons! Instead of being displayed in museums, these mummies were shipped to England and then…ground up. The pulverized cat mummies were then sold as fertilizer. It seems disrespectful by today’s standards, but back then, there wasn’t the same appreciation for archaeology and cultural heritage.

This story highlights a few things:

  • The Victorians’ lack of understanding of other cultures.
  • The importance of preserving historical artifacts.
  • The ingenuity (or desperation) of people to find new sources of fertilizer for their crops.

It’s a rather grim chapter in history, especially considering the reverence ancient Egyptians had for these animals, even though they didn’t exactly worship them. Cats and other animals were often mummified and sold to worshippers as offerings or buried alongside the deceased. So, while the cats were sacred, their fate after mummification wasn’t as dignified as one might expect.

The early Egyptians would probably have demanded 180,000 human deaths for this sacrilegious behaviour. It is reported that a Roman soldier was torn limb from limb for hurting a cat.

Ancient Egyptians worshipped cats as most people now know. They also prohibited their export. There were attempts to smuggle them out of the country as high-status pets.

In the era of ancient Egypt, the Phoenicians were today’s equivalent of cat and dog thieves. It is reported that they were involved in “shipping out high-priced moggies to the jaded rich all around the Mediterranean.” (source: Dr Desmond Morris).

Around 100,000 mummified cats were buried at sacred festivals which took place annually at the city of Bast each spring. The burials honored the feline virgin-goddess, Bastet, meaning She-of-Bast, who might have been the forerunner of the Virgin Mary.

RELATED: Why did ancient Egyptians shave off their eyebrows to mourn their dead cats?

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