“The ancient Egyptians were respectful towards the animals that shared their world and associated many of them with deities or positive human characteristics. However, no animal was held in such esteem as the cat. Cats were closely connected to a number of gods and goddesses, and there is evidence that they were considered to be demi-gods in their own right. As an inscription in the Valley of the Kings states;
As a primarily agrarian society, the ancient Egyptians had a distinct problem with mice, rats and snakes all of whom threatened the grain stores. It is thought that the ancient Egyptians learned that wild cats preyed on these scavengers and so began to leave out food (such as fish heads) to tempt the cats to visit them regularly. This suited the cats perfectly as being close to human settlements not only provided them with a ready supply of food (the vermin and the food left by humans) but also helped them to avoid larger predators. As this symbiotic relationship developed cats were welcomed indoors and eventually consented to move in with their human friends and rear their kittens in the safety of the home.
Their diet changed somewhat as they were provided with food by grateful humans, and breeding programs heightened certain characteristics in the formerly wild animals. The ancient Egyptians even hunted with their cats, a seemingly amazing feat of co-operation with an animal renowned for its stubborn individualism. Most importantly, they loved and respected their cats for being playful and affectionate companions but also highly intelligent skilful predators.
Cats were also important in the interpretation of dreams. Apparently seeing a cat in your dream confirmed that you would have a good harvest.
The Egyptians did not distinguish between a wild cat and a domesticated cat; all cats were known as “”miu”” (or “”miut””) often translated as “”he or she who mews””. The origin of this name is not clear but it seems likely that it is an onomatopoetic reference to the sound a cat makes (mew). However, some commentators have suggested that it also related to the word miw (to see). It seems that it was rare for a cat to be given its own specific name (rather than being called “”miu”” or “”miut””). However, there are exceptions such as the cat named “”Nedjem”” (“”sweetie””) and another named “”Tai Miuwette”” (“”the little mewer””) who was the companion of crown prince Thutmose (eldest son of Amenhotep lll and brother of Akhenaten). Little girls were often named “”Miut”” (literally meaning “”female cat””) displaying the Egyptians fondness for both cats and children.
Mummification and Burial
When a cat died, their human family would go into a deep mourning and shave their eyebrows. The cat would then be mummified and buried along with provisions such as milk, mice and rats. Cats were often taken to Bubastis to be buried, but tombs have also been discovered in Giza, Abydos, Denderah and Beni Hasan. For example, a tomb in Beni Hassan was discovered in 1888 which contained an estimated 80,000 feline burials.
The deceased cat was wrapped in fine linen and taken to be embalmed. Diodorus recorded that the deceased cat was “”treated with cedar oil and such spices as have the quality of imparting a pleasant odour and of preserving the body for a long time.”””