Cats are and have been one of mankind’s most trusted companions for thousands of years. They have played a major role in keeping reptiles and rodents away from the household, helping protect food and preventing all kinds of diseases. Humans and cats share a unique bond, expressed by the way they communicate with each other. The cat’s meow is one of the most recognizable sounds that we know, so much so that in Ancient Egypt the word for cat was actually Mau and there is still a breed called that way today. Incredibly though, cats don’t actually meow to each another. Baby kittens do it when they are young to tell their mother they are cold or hungry, but after a certain age they cease doing so. Nevertheless, they continue to meow to humans throughout their entire lives, as it probably gets their attention.
Many believe that Ancient Egypt is where cats were first domesticated, but in reality, the relationship goes a lot further. On the island of Cyprus archeologists found the remains of a 9,500-year-old cat, buried right next to its master. This predates the oldest Egyptian feline drawings by around 4,000 years. Regardless, for more than 30 centuries cats had sacred status in Ancient Egypt. They were remarkably significant to the Egyptians religious life. According to legend, the goddess Bastet, who was half human and half feline, would battle every morning with the demon Apep the Sun-Swallower, so that Ra could sail his ship across the sky and raise the Sun. Accordingly, if anyone would so much as harm a cat, it could anger their goddess and the punishments were very severe, sometimes even sentenced to death. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote in one of his books that whenever a cat would die in a household, its remains were mummified and as a sign of mourning the owners would shave their eyebrows. The period of mourning would then continue until they grew back. The tiny mummy was placed into the family tomb or in a pet cemetery, next to tiny mummies of mice.
In 1888 a farmer in Egypt, digging near the village of Istabl Antar, uncovered a grave filled with over 300,000 mummified cats. The most preserved specimens were quickly sold off to tourists and the rest were eventually shipped off and used in the USA and England as fertilizer.
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