Cats in the museum!
Are you a cat lover or a dog lover?
Well, for those who consider themselves cat lovers, a visit to the Egyptian case in the Abbey Museum is always a must-do!
There, taking pride of place, is a beautiful painted wooden statue of a cat. Why? you might ask. Is the Museum’s senior curator himself a cat lover?? Without prejudice I must declare he loves all creatures great and small, equally.
Our little Egyptian cat, sitting on its own pedestal, declares the importance of cats in ancient Egypt. They were highly regarded not only as pets but also as hunting animals. Wall paintings often show hunting cats, even out in boats.
Cat and mouse mummies!
Cats were considered of such importance that they warranted mummification to ensure their smooth passing into the afterlife. And as the ancient Egyptians ensured that their human dead had everything they needed for a comfortable afterlife — as can been seen from the grave goods often excavated in Egyptian tombs — so they ensured that their precious cats never went hungry with many examples of mummified mice having been found with their cats.
One of the earliest Egyptian deities was Bastet, the cat goddess of Bubastis in the Nile delta. So why cats and not dogs I hear some of you asking? We have to remember that ancient Egypt had a significant grain growing economy. The Nile delta was rich with the fertile soil brought downstream with the annual floods creating prime agricultural lands. For any grain grower the ongoing battle against hungry hordes of mice and rats is still a challenge. It is not hard to see why the cat would be so valued in ancient Egypt on a practical level as well as … well, we know how cuddlesome they are.
So what breed of cat was found in ancient Egypt. This still seemed to be wrapped in controversy. Some believe it was the Abyssinian because of its similarity to the depiction as seen in the many small statues. However, the spotted Egyptian Mau is considered to be one of the oldest domestic breeds and there are wall paintings of these spotted cats to be found in temples and tombs.
The Abbey Museum’s cat is painted with the hieroglyph of the Eye of Horus on its chest. The eye of Horus is considered to be a powerful sign of protection and good health.
Next time you are visiting the Abbey Museum look out for our little wooden Mua (meow) watching over many other amazing objects in our ancient Egyptian display.
Find out more about the Egyptian artifacts at the Abbey Museum including our beautiful 26th Dynasty (dated 664-325 BC) cat figure by attending the Kids Dig it! Egyptian Family Fun.