CAT MUMMIES AND TOMB PAINTINGS AT BENI HASSAN


Large numbers of cat mummies and tomb paintings have been found near a small village called Beni Hassan, located 23 kilometers south of Minya, between Asyut and Memphis.  With its necropolis located high in the limestone cliffs on the eastern side of the Nile, it was here that the famous archeologist, Flinders Petrie, found a small tomb dating to 1950BC.  The tomb contained 17 cats each with its own  little bowl that presumably held milk to sustain it on

Beni Hassan Tombs

Beni Hassan Tombs

the long journey to the afterlife.

 One of the earliest  paintings of a cat is also found at Beni Hassan on the north wall of the tomb of Bakhet III, a governor of the Oryx Nome (province), during the early Middle Kingdom, 11th Dynasty.  In the painting a cat facing right confronts a rat of equal size.  In another tomb, that of Khnumhotep, a governor of the Oryx Nome during the reign of Amenemhat III (12th Dynasty), cats are also present. 

Cat in the marshes by Howard Carter

Cat in the Marshes
Copy of tomb painting
by Howard Carter

            The most surprising and notable find at this site was the discovery in 1888 of 80,000 mummified cats and kittens dating back to 1,000-2,000BC.  An eyewitness account by William Martin Conway, the Baron of Allington (1856-1937) states, “The plundering of the cemetery was a sight to see, but one had to stand well windward.  The village children came…..and provided themselves with the most attractive mummies they could find.  These they took down the river bank to sell for the smallest coin to passing travelers.  The path became strewn with mummy cloth and bits of cats’ skulls and bones and fur in horrid positions, and the wind blew the fragments about and carried the stink afar.”  (Tabor, 1991, p.26) Egyptian fellahin had un-wrapped a great majority of the mummies looking for gold amulets.  The cat mummies’ linen wrappings were then sold and exported to the United States and turned into linen-based paper during the American Civil War (1861-1865) (Yurco, 1990).  The remains of the 20 tons of unwrapped cat mummies were then sold by Egyptian farmers to an entrepreneurial Brit who had them shipped to Liverpool where he then sold them for fertilizer for 4 pounds a ton, a sad end to a once revered goddess (Mery, 2006).

English: Entrance of the Tomb Beni Hassan/Egypt

English: Entrance of the Tomb Beni Hassan/Egypt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Comments

  1. Very interesting piece today! I love the copy of the Cat In The Marshes tomb painting. I wonder what the Americans did with the linen-based paper. Could it have been used for bandages? Thanks again for enlightening me.

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