Garstang Museum of Archaeology

Object Biography: Meet ‘Felix’ one of our mummified cats

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E.5425 a.k.a. ‘Felix’

This is ‘Felix’ one of our mummified cats, or more officially E.5425. Felix often goes with us on outreach activities though he is fairly quiet and doesn’t really eat much even when on the road! Really we should probably call him a more Egyptian name such as ‘Ta-miu’ (literally ‘the girl cat’, think meow), which is the name of the pet cat of a Prince Thutmose, but Felix rather stuck.

However, Felix was not buried in such a lofty location as the Valley of the Kings, in fact we are unsure of where he was originally buried. Instead, we know where he spent a portion of the 20th century- in an attic. On Thursday 12th November 1992, workmen were clearing the loft areas of one of the university buildings not too far from where the museum stands today; as they cleared the space they found some ancient pottery, basketry, mummified pieces and Felix. The building they were clearing, 11 Abercromby Square, had been part of the Institute of Archaeology before the 1940s and it appears that these objects were placed under the eaves for safe keeping and forgotten about for fifty years! An unusual find, but only last year another mummified cat was found lurking in an attic: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2278585/B-B-owner-finds-stuffed-cat-hidden-attic-2-000-year-old-EGYPTIAN-MUMMY.html (although the daily mail suggests that it was a mummified pet- keep reading and we will let you decide whether this is correct).

Scarcophagus of ‘Tamiu’, the pet cat of Prince Thutmose ©Madam Rafaèle

Why mummify a cat?

There are two reasons to mummify a cat, the first of these is to provide a pet with a caring burial (like Tamiu), and the second, more common reason is for ritual purposes. A number of animals including cats were mummified to serve as ritual offerings to the gods. Felix is probably one of these offerings. Cats were often offered to the cat-headed goddess Bastet as votives, with the practice of mummifying animals peaking in the 1st Millenium BC.  Huge numbers of animals were often stored on mass in underground galleries. As this was done on such a large scale, most of the mummified cats which were offered as votives were kittens, this was so that the temple could continue to produce these votives without spending unnecessary time raising an adult cat.

 

Wholesale cat mummies for fur-tiliser

Cartoon from “Punch” (15th February 1890) showing a grizzly result of using the mummified cat fertiliser

Liverpool also has an unusual link with mummified cats, on 10th February 1890, 19.5 tons of mummified cats (approx. 18,000). Found by accident in 1889 in Speos Artemidos, this large shipment was auctioned off in Liverpool and caused quite a stir in the media. The reports of the sale vary but they seem to agree that the cats were sold off wholesale when they had disintegrated (for use as fertiliser), with the more well preserved cats being sold whole or just as heads/bodies. There are even reports of the auctioneer using the skull of one such cat as a gavel!

For more on this, see:

http://blog.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/2011/06/a-mummy-cats-tale/

http://www.strangehistory.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/egyptian-cats.pdf

 

 

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