The more archaeologists find in ancient Egypt’s tombs, the more evidence accumulates that ancient Egyptians admired cats and loved mummifying them.
An Egyptian archaeologist cleans mummified cats in the necropolis at Saqqara, south of Cairo.
A team of Egyptian archaeologists excavating a 4,500-year-old tomb near Cairo uncovered hundreds of mummified cats, according to Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities. There were also 100 gilded wooden cat statues and a bronze statue of Bastet, the goddess of cats, in the cemetery.
The findings were made at a recently discovered tomb in Saqqara, the ancient city of Memphis’ necropolis.
The tomb dates from the Old Kingdom’s Fifth Dynasty, and archaeologists have discovered another nearby with its door still sealed, indicating that its contents are untouched.
The Ministry of Antiquities was clear about its goals in announcing the discoveries: attracting visitors back to Egypt’s heritage sites, as the country has experienced a significant drop in tourists since the 2011 mass protests that overthrew dictatorial President Hosni Mubarak.
The ministry tweeted photos of the findings. Pictures of the cat statues took center stage, with the ancient felines looking proud and cool, like an upscale, 4,500-year-old version of what a cat fancier today might try to commission.
The mummified cats themselves… Well, those images are more unsettling, though they offer incontrovertible evidence that mummification is highly effective.
Further work at the site in Saqqara is planned. Archaeologists found the door to another tomb that remains sealed and they plan to open it in the coming weeks.
While ancient Egyptians saw cats as divine, they didn’t exactly worship them, Antonietta Catanzariti, curator of the Smithsonian Sackler Gallery exhibit Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt, told NPR last year.
“What they did is to observe their behavior,” she said, and create gods and goddesses in their image—much as they did with other animals, including dogs, crocodiles, snakes, and bulls.
And while cat mummies are fascinating, Catanzariti said they were also pretty common in ancient Egypt, where cats were bred for the purpose.
“In the 1890s, people from England went to Egypt, and they collected all these mummies. One cargo was 180,000 of them.”
An Egyptian archaeologist cleans mummified cats in the necropolis at Saqqara, south of Cairo, on Saturday.
Perhaps that’s why the antiquities ministry made a bigger deal about something else they discovered in the tomb: mummified scarab beetles.
Two large specimens were found wrapped in linen, apparently in very good condition. They were inside sarcophagi decorated with drawings of scarabs.
The newly found tombs lie in a buried ridge that has only partially been excavated. Experts say it could offer many more discoveries.
“The (mummified) scarab is something really unique. It is something really a bit rare,” Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, told outlets including Reuters.
“A couple of days ago, when we discovered those coffins, they were sealed coffins with drawings of scarabs. I never heard about them before.”