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Cats in Ancient Egypt

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Introduction

The Ancient Egyptians domesticated a large variety of animals; from everyday cattle to exotic creatures such as the peregrine falcon and the Egyptian mongoose. These animals were important to many aspects of everyday life in Ancient Egypt, from religious beliefs that the animals were associated with to their economic value and the companionship they provided. Cats are one of the many domesticated animals worth noting; they played an important role which helped define Ancient Egypt. Cats did more than just keep the vermin population under control, they were also a symbol of feminism and sacred connotations due to their connections to the Sun God Ra and the War Goddess Bastet. The "Miaw", onomatopoeic word used by Ancient Egyptians to refer to cats, originated from the "Felis chaus" or the jungle cat. During the pre-dynastic era in Ancient Egypt, three different species of cats existed, the lynx, the swamp or jungle cats and the African wild cat. The jungle cats were largest and the heaviest. The name "Felis Chaus" is derived from the Coptic word "shau" which means tomcat. The jungle cats roamed the marshes and swamplands in the northern Nile Valley. ...read more.

Middle

Ipuy's 19th dynasty tomb-chapel at Thebes features a perky young kitten, sitting on the owner's lap with its mother sitting beneath the chair of Ipuy's wife, sporting a golden earring. In the New Kingdom, there is only one instance of a cat with a proper name. The tabby represented in a wall painting in an 18th dynasty tomb at Thebes was called "The pleasant one" by her mistress. Though cats had many different roles in Ancient Egypt, mouse hunting was their main value to the Ancient Egyptians and a frequent motif. The 11th Dynasty tomb at Beni Hassan displays one of the first feline motifs; it shows a tiny vignette with a cat face-to-face with a large field rat. A witty math problem from the Middle Kingdom involves 7 houses, 49 cats and 343 mice; it refers to the household cat as a mouse-catcher. A drawing of a village tabby cat with a rodent hanging from its mouth is shown in a limestone ostraca from the Ramesside period at the workers' village of Deir al-Medina in Theban Necropolis. Household advice offered in the Ebers medical papyrus from the New Kingdom states "To prevent mice from coming near things: put cat grease on everything," (Houlihan, 83). ...read more.

Conclusion

180,000 cat mummies or 19 tons of them were found at a vast cemetery linked to the cult of the lioness goddess Pakhet near Beni Hasan. In the late 19th century, the mummies were imported to England and ground up to use as fertilizer. Professor W. M. Conway noticed the affair and published an eyewitness account. "So men went systematically to work, peeled cat after cat of its wrapping, stripped off the brittle fur and piled the bones in black heaps like a kind of rotting haycocks scattered on sandy plain." (Houlihan, 89). In summary, the cats of Ancient Egypt were descendents of the jungle cats, domesticated in the Old Kingdom as family pets. In the Middle Kingdom, their full potential was discovered as hunters of vermin and they gained economic value. Towards the end of the Middle Kingdom and into the New Kingdom, the cats were linked with deities associated with the Sun and worshipped in temples as sacred animals. The beliefs held with the cat were lost as the cat cults lost the battle against the head of the white monastery at Sohag in the 5th century AD. Shenute, the head, abolished many of the religious practices of the Ancient Egyptians and the cat, stripped of its divinity, went back to playing the role of a family pet. ...read more.

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