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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Cat Mummies? Our fascination with felines

Cats are amazing creatures; they are nimble and agile, have excellent night vision and acute hearing abilities. They are sneaky, clever predators and their long tails help them to maintain good balance.

Cats are so interesting that people love to study their curious behaviour and abilities, and not to mention, watch lots of cat videos!

Cats can hear four times farther than humans, and see six times as well as us, too! They can even use their whiskers to navigate, and to measure openings!

Cats are one of the most popular pets around. There are about 600 million domestic cats around the world. Just like dogs that have also been domesticated, cats have a special bond with humans, and this has been so for a very, very long time.

For as far back as we can possibly tell, through historical records, art, and archaeology, it looks like wild felines started to become our companions since people first started to farm, and they were treated like royalty.

That makes sense, because farming and storing grains and other food attract pests such as rats. Rats eat the food that we need to survive, and felines hunt them. Being a good predator to our pests is likely what earned felines the affection of humans.

For a long time, it was widely believed that the Ancient Egyptians were the first to domesticate cats some 4,000 years ago.

However, there are now clues indicating that felines became domesticated in different parts of the world even before that. The oldest example of a feline skeleton that was very likely a domesticated cat is from around 9,500 years ago in the Mediterranean, which is around the time people started to farm in that region. It was buried alongside a human, surrounded by carved seashells.

Different types of cats are depicted in Ancient Egyptian art, in sculpture, statues and paintings.

Early Egyptians worshipped different animals for different reasons for thousands of years, but cats seem to have been the most special, regarded as magical creatures.

Some different animals were seen as incarnations of gods, and the cat specifically was seen as the incarnation of Bastet, a goddess of joy and protection, and the daughter of the sun god Ra.

Killing a cat – even by accident – was punishable by death.

Rich families would even dress cats with precious jewels. When a cat died, the owner would shave off their eyebrows as a sign of mourning.

Cats were even mummified in ancient Egypt. This is very special, because mummification – which they believed prepared people for the afterlife – was a very lengthy, elaborate, and expensive process. It was mostly only done for Pharaohs (which were similar to kings) and very rich people.

Some other animals were also mummified for religious reasons, including birds, bulls, crocodiles and baboons. Millions of mummified animals are known to exist, buried at the temples that honour the gods that they represented.

Photo: The Smithsonian Institute

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