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A Mummy Cat’s Tale

10 June 2011 by Ashley Cooke

head of a cat mummy

Head of a mummified cat about 2000 years old

 

I’ve just given a tour of the Ancient Egypt gallery at World Museum for a group of 30 Egyptology enthusiasts from the University of the Third Age. They were impressed with our display of animal mummies but were shocked to hear of a grizzly tale involving cat mummies being scattered over the fields of Liverpool. On 10th February 1890 an estimated 180,000 mummified cats, weighing 19.5 tons, were sold at auction at the docks in Liverpool. Almost all were crushed and spread on fields like manure but a few were saved and remain in World Museum. They were discovered the previous year at Speos Artemidos in Middle Egypt, when a farmer fell through a hole into a catacomb completely filled with cat mummies.

 

As a sign of devotion to the cat goddess Bastet ancient Egyptians would dedicate cat mummies as votives in temples. This became a wide-spread practice during the 1st Millennium BC and by providing cats with decent burials pilgrims were seeking the favour of Bastet through piety. Such was Bastet’s popularity that we now know of over twenty cat cemeteries for her cult in Egypt. Cat donations from these mass burials are now in museum collections but most were destroyed in the 19th century for use as fertilizer in Egypt and places like Liverpool.  

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