In Depth

Cat mummies found in 6,000-year-old tombs in Egypt

An ancient unopened tomb and rare mummified scarab beetles were also unearthed at the site south of Cairo

Dozens of mummified cats have been discovered in Cairo dating back more than 6,000 years.

The country's Antiquities minister Khaled el-Enany said the discovery was made by an Egyptian archaeological mission during excavation work started in April.

The Ministry of Antiquities was clear about its goals in announcing the discoveries: “attracting visitors back to Egypt's heritage sites, as the country has experienced a significant drop in tourists since the 2011 mass protests that overthrew dictatorial President Hosni Mubarak”, says NPR.

Those working to excavate the tomb hope to “show the exceptional richness of the Egyptian civilization and to attract the attention of the world towards its magnificent monuments and great civilization so that it becomes the focus of the world as it deserves,” according to the ministry’s press release.

The tomb dates from the Fifth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom and “is unusual because the facade and door are intact, meaning its contents may still be untouched”, according to The Guardian. The paper adds that experts plan to explore it in the coming weeks.

Among the dozens of cat mummies unearthed were 100 wooden, gilded statues of cats and one in bronze dedicated to the cat goddess Bastet.

Ancient Egyptians were often buried with mummified animals and animal statues, experts say. It was seen “as a way for the dead to bring pets with them to the afterlife”, says archaeologist Salima Ikram, a professor at the American University in Cairo.

Animals were buried in tombs “to provide food in the afterlife, to act as offerings to a particular god and because some were seen as physical manifestations of specific gods that the Egyptians worshiped,” she wrote on her blog.

The mission also found mummified scarab beetles. Two large specimens were found wrapped in linen, “apparently in very good condition”, says NPR. “The scarab is something really unique,” said Mostafa Waziri from Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

“A couple of days ago, when we discovered those coffins, they were sealed coffins with drawings of scarabs,” he added. “I had never heard about them before.”

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