ALL WRAPPED UP! Ancient Egyptians wrapped cats in cloth, then painted faces on them.

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Cats Under Wraps

Why did the ancient Egyptians turn cats into mummies?

Ancient Egyptians are famous for the way they buried their rulers, like King Tut. They wrapped them in cloth and turned them into mummies. But humans weren’t the only mummies in Egypt. Many Egyptians also preserved their pets!

Archaeologists recently found dozens of cat mummies in an ancient tomb near Cairo (KYE-roh), the capital of Egypt. Experts say this discovery highlights how important cats were to the Egyptians.

Together Forever

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In ancient Egypt, people believed in life after death. They thought people would need their bodies in the afterlife. More than 4,500 years ago, around 2600 b.c., they started mummifying people as a way to preserve their bodies.

About 1,000 years later, they began doing the same to animals. Millions of dogs, cats, birds, and other animals were turned into mummies.

Cats were among the most commonly mummified animals. For many Egyptians, cats were beloved pets. Some people turned their pets into mummies so they could stay together in the afterlife.

A Special Connection

Cats weren’t preserved just because they were snuggly or cute. People believed that some animals had a special connection to Egyptian gods and goddesses. Some gods were shown in the form of an animal because they were thought to have similar qualities. For example, the goddess Bastet had the body of a woman and the head of a cat.

“Just as cats take care of their kittens, Bastet was warm and motherly,” says Yekaterina Barbash. She is an expert on Egyptian art at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. 

Ancient Egyptians presented Bastet with cat mummies and cat statues as gifts. They hoped she would grant them long life and good health in return.

More to Learn

Thousands of years later, those offerings teach us about history. Experts continue to explore the area near the tomb where the cat mummies were found. They hope to soon find even more clues about the past.

“Every new discovery gives us insight into the culture and beliefs of ancient Egyptians,” says Barbash.

Shutterstock.com (heiroglyphs); Illustration by Kimberly Schamber

1. Why did the ancient Egyptians make mummies?

2. Who was Bastet? Describe how she looked and acted.

3. How does the sidebar “How to Make a Mummy” relate to the article?

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