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Egyptian Animal Mummies

The ancient Egyptians mummified animals as well as humans. They probably made more ibis mummies than any other type of animal mummy--but cat mummies are a close second. They are also the saddest type of Egyptian animal mummy, according to many Egyptologists, as you'll see below.

The Ancient Egyptians made four types of animal mummies:

1. food mummies (such as a beef rib that was mummified and left in the tomb)

 

2. favorite pets (such as a gazelle or a dog)

3. sacred animals that were mummified (such as bulls)

4. animal mummies that were left as offerings as temples throughout Egypt (such as dogs and cats)

Best Books about Animal Mummies

But the saddest of all the animal mummies were the last type, especially when the animals did not live a full life. Here's the truth about many of the cat mummies that were found.

The 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.