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Dozens of Cat Mummies Found in 4,500-Year-Old Egyptian Tombs

The King Userkaf pyramid complex at Saqqara is the final resting place for cats and scarab beetles—and it still contains unopened tombs.

by Becky Ferreira
Nov 12 2018, 5:06pm

Cat mummies found at Saqqara. Image: KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

Over the weekend, archeologists unveiled dozens of cat mummies and 100 feline sculptures found in 4,500-year-old tombs at Saqqara, an ancient Egyptian necropolis south of Cairo. The exciting find reiterates that the human compulsion to worship our kitty companions predates the likes of Maro and Lil BUB by several millennia.

The ritual sacrifice, mummification, and burial of cats was extremely common for thousands of years in ancient Egypt, and the animals were bred for this specific purpose. These sacrificed kitties were likely a mass offering to the cat goddess Bastet. A bronze statue dedicated to Bastet was recovered with the mummified cats, along with a multitude of wooden gilded feline figurines.

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An archeologist cleans mummified cats at Saqqara. Image: KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

Literal tons of mummified feline remains have been discovered in past Egyptian excavations. For instance, an estimated 180,000 Egyptian cat mummies were sent to a 1890 auction in Liverpool, UK, where they were mostly sold as fertilizer.

The cats at Saqqara were found by an Egyptian-led expedition and will be preserved for research and public display.

Read More: Authorities Opened That Black Sarcophagus and Found Three Mummies Stewing in Sewage

In addition to the cat remains, archeologists also found mummified scarab beetles in a decorative box. Scarab beetles were also important symbols in ancient Egyptian religion and were associated with the sun god Ra. "The (mummified) scarab is something really unique," Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, told Reuters. “It is something really a bit rare.”

The cat and scarab mummies were found in seven excavated tombs near the King Userkaf pyramid complex at Saqqara. The complex was built during the Fifth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, around 2,500 BCE, and is known informally as the “heap of stone” because of its ramshackle appearance.

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Exterior of King Userkaf pyramid complex. Image: Neithsabes

Over the coming weeks, the Saqqara expedition plans to open other tombs at this complex that appear to have remained completely undisturbed since the Fifth Dynasty.

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