The purpose of this article is to inject a bit of realism into the concept that Ancient Egypt was a blissful era for the domestic cat. It wasn’t. It couldn’t be because animal welfare in that era was very poor. That is not to say that there wasn’t a lot of kindness towards animals in Ancient Egypt. There must have been some but it was against a general background of poor animal welfare and abuses.
There are at least four studies, one of them recent, which tell us that there was animal abuse in ancient Egypt and some of it was directed at cats. It undermines the rosy picture that is often painted in Internet articles that ancient Egyptians worshipped the domestic cat and therefore by definition were kind and loving towards this companion animal.
A recent study conducted micro-CT scans of mummified animals whose purpose was to act as “go-betweens” between the gods and the citizens of ancient Egypt. I interpret this to mean that the mummies were a way of appeasing the gods and seeking favours from them to improve their lives and to ensure that they lived in a pleasant afterlife when they were dead.
The mummified kitten (4–5 months of age) studied by Giacomo Gnudi, a professor at the University of Parma, in the photo above, indicated that some of its bones had been broken so that it occupied a smaller space in a tight wrappings. The mummy had a hole in its head. Was this how the kitten was killed? We don’t know. Death may have come in a cruel manner.
Ancient Egyptians mummified a lot of animals including perhaps hundreds of thousands of cats but also dogs, snakes birds and crocodiles. They did it for a thousand years or more starting around 700 BCE (before the common era or BC).
The mummies that the researchers studied are at the Egyptian Centre at Swansea University in Wales. They’ve been there for a long time. The domestic cat mummy was a juvenile, in fact a five-month-old kitten. Previous research also identified kittens as mummified offerings to the gods. This particular individual had had its neck broken at the time of death or during the mummification process. It is not clear.
We don’t know for sure, therefore, whether the cat was killed by breaking his/her neck but it is a distinct possibility. In fact it is likely judging by the researcher’s analysis of the death of the snake mentioned below.
The mummy of a coiled snake was that of a juvenile Egyptian cobra. The researchers decided that the snake had been denied water when alive because its kidneys were calcified. They also decided that the animal had been killed by spinal fracture “after being lifted by the tail and whipped in the air”.
As mentioned, it is hard to avoid coming to the conclusion that cats were abused in ancient Egypt and many were kittens bred for the purpose of becoming mummies. This is to be expected as the concept of animal welfare is fairly modern and even today is a developing attitude. There is an inherent attitude in humans towards animals that they should be used for various purposes which on occasions leads to abuses. This is why PETA exists.
Ancient Egyptians also trapped and killed African-Asian wild cats in their many thousands. Their remains were discovered by a river.
About 18 months ago I wrote about the discovery of a cache of 75 wooden and bronze statues and five lion cub mummies at the Saqqara Necropolis near the famous Giza pyramids in Cairo. They were found at the foot of the Bastet Temple. Having decided that there was animal abuse in ancient Egypt it would not surprise me if these five lion cubs were killed for the purpose of making them into mummies and offerings to the great god Bastet.
In another sutudy it was concluded that cat mummies were sometimes part of a scam organised by unscrupulous priests.
The co-author of the Swansea Uni study was Carolyn Graves-Brown.
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