It’s no secret that ancient Egyptians had an abiding fondness for cats. Many gods were depicted with unmistakably feline features. And strict laws forbade anyone from harming a cat.
But there seems to have been a bit of a legal loophole for turning cats into mummies.
Indeed, cat mummies — animals that underwent the same tried-and-true process that humans did — are commonly found in Egyptian tombs, willing or unwilling stalwarts at their owners' sides. They’re among an estimated 70 million animals, including wading birds and shrews and crocodiles, that ancient Egyptians insisted on dragging with them to the afterlife.
But the freshly uncorked necropolis at Saqqara, just south of Cairo, has revealed a cat obsession like no other. That’s where archaeologists unearthed several sarcophagi brimming not with human remains, but those of dozens of cats. Alongside those mummies, the tombs featured at least 100 gilded statues of cats, as well as a bronze model dedicated to the cat goddess Bastet.
But the site, which comprises seven tombs — four of them dating back to between 2,686 B.C. and 2,181 B.C. — isn’t just for cat (mummy) lovers.
Scientists also found a pair of large mummified scarab beetles in uncommonly good condition, among several smaller beetles.
“The (mummified) scarab is something really unique. It is something really a bit rare,” Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, tells Reuters.
“A couple of days ago, when we discovered those coffins, they were sealed coffins with drawings of scarabs. I never heard about them before.”
And, once the dust settles, an even shinier gem awaits archaeologists.
The team found the door to another tomb at the necropolis — one that’s sealed, suggesting the contents remain intact. Archaeologists plan to pry it open in the next few weeks.
The Egyptian government is hoping all this ancient intrigue will add up to a much-needed jolt for the country’s tourism industry. Since President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in 2011, tourism has largely dried up, essentially making a mummy of an industry that has long relied on foreign visitors.
What a day that was! Glad to be part of this momentous occasion. Discoveries confirmed are the (possibly) first known mummified scarab beetles & wonderful mummies of cats, cobras & crocodiles.#Egypt #Archaeology #Saqqara pic.twitter.com/x8lvnbqMgH— Nigel J.Hetherington (@Pastpreservers) November 11, 2018
“This is the first of three upcoming new discoveries in other governorates in Egypt to be announced later before the end of 2018,” notes Minister for Antiquities Khaled El-Enany.
For now, we can only assume that whatever lurks in that ancient, seemingly untouched tomb will be, at the very least, the cat’s meow.