It’s no secret that the ancient Egyptians were totally besotted with cats, perhaps even more so than the Internet-dwelling folk of the 21st century. Now, archaeologists have revealed even more physical evidence that the Egyptians once held our feline companions in an extremely high, god-like regard.
Three tombs have been unearthed in Saqqara, an hour's drive south of Cairo, containing dozens of mummified cats, over 100 gilded wooden statues of cats, and one bronze statue dedicated to the cat goddess Bastet.
On top of that, archaeologists also found a number of rare mummified scarab beetles, believed to be the first discovery of its kind in the area. At least two of the scarabs were preserved, wrapped in linen, and then placed inside a limestone sarcophagus with a decorated lid. Considering their age, they’re in remarkably good shape.
The discoveries are around 4,500 years old and date back to the Fifth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, who announced the discovery over the weekend. It’s a particularly special discovery because the tomb’s door is still intact, indicating that it hasn’t been meddled with by tomb raiders or even seen by colonial explorers.
This isn't just the tomb of an ancient crazy cat lady – cats were everywhere in ancient Eygpt. Through ancient Egypt's long history, from the First Dynasty in 3100 BCE until it fell under Roman rule in 30 BCE, the figure of the feline played a strong role in the culture due to its association with the gods and the divine. A number of deities, such as Mafdet, Bastet, and Sekhmet, all had cat-like heads while many others were often depicted alongside a cat.
Thousands upon thousands of mummified cats are believed to exist, but the British Museum alone has over 192 mummified cats, estimated to date to between 600 and 200 BCE.
Ancient Egyptians saw the dung beetle as a divine representation of Khepri, the god of rebirth who was associated with the rising of the early morning Sun. This is why they are such a common motif on jewelry, amulets, and other ornaments. Nevertheless, actual mummified beetles are relatively rare, especially in this area of Eygpt from this time period.
"The scarab is something really unique. It is something really a bit rare," Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, told reporters, including Reuters, at the announcement. "A couple of days ago, when we discovered those coffins, they were sealed coffins with drawings of scarabs. I never heard about them before."