Tuesday 2 March 2021

90 per cent of animals interred at an ancient Egyptian pet cemetery were cats

A recent archaeological dig in Egypt confirms what we probably already knew, namely that the favoured companion animal by far in ancient Egypt was the domestic cat. The archaeologists have dug up the remains of pets at what is considered to be the world's first pet cemetery. And they say that the vast majority of the skeletons, more than 90%, were cats although there are also dogs, baboons and 2 species of macaque monkey.

Remains of cat at world's first pet cemetry in Egypt
Remains of cat at world's first pet cemetry in Egypt. Photo as per photograph.

In all they exposed 585 animals. They were laid out carefully in individual graves which indicates to the archaeologist that this was a pet cemetery at a remote seaport on the western coast of the red Sea, Berenike.

Some of the animals were wearing collars and some showed evidence of illness indicating that they were companion animals. As the animals had not been mummified and there was no sign of a sacrifice at this 2000 year old site, this further supported the view that this was a cemetery.

Berenike was a busy Roman port at the time and founded in 275 BC. They also uncovered remnants of goods from India and other luxury items from across the Empire including fabrics, spices and ceramics.

The scientists, Marta Osypinska and her husband Piotr, who are called 'archaeozoologists', first discovered the cemetery in 2011 when they were excavating a Roman trash dump on the edge of this ancient town.

Apparently some experienced archaeologists said that they were wasting their time in digging up the pets but it has proved enlightening they say.

The research is published in the journal World Archaeology. The site existed as a pet cemetery for about a hundred years from the mid-first century to the mid-second century.

Comment: There was a time when the experts thought that the first domestic cats in the world were pets of the ancient Egyptians. However, it is now believed that the first North African wildcats were domesticated around 10,000 years ago which, as I understand it, is before the Egyptians adopted them as pets as long ago as 3700 BC. 10,000 years ago is about 8000 BC.

It is believed that the domestic cat went through a golden era of adoration as pets of the ancient Egyptians because they created gods in their likeness. I think this is a misconception because many kittens were deliberately killed as sacrifices to the gods. It is believed that these kittens were bred for the purpose of sacrifice.

As is always the case there are those who abuse animals even in countries where a particular animal appears to have been worshipped. My clear impression is that there was far more abuse of animals in general and cats in particular in Ancient Egypt than people care to reflect on. Not a cat loving society if you dig deep.

However, the fact that 90% of the skeletons at the cemetery were cats clearly indicate that they dominated the pet marketplace and were far more popular than dogs at that time.

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