AO 7:02, Mar/Apr 2004
Ancient Life: Cats
Womans Best Friend
No people on earth, perhaps, has been more closely associated with a fellow creature than the ancient Egyptians with their cats.
Some 4,000 years ago the Egyptians became the first people to domesticate the cat, which they referred to onomatopoetically as miw. Soon they began mummifying their deceased feline friends and representing them in lovely painted and sculpted imagessuch as the 10-inch-high bronze statue dating to the 26th Dynasty (664525 B.C.).
At least by the Ptolemaic period, the Egyptians viewed cats as manifestations of Bastet, goddess of joy and fertility and protector of women in childbirth. Bastet was sometimes represented as a serene she-cat; at other times, she had the graceful body of a woman and the head of a cat. Millions of cats were bred and raised in catteries associated with temple precincts and later sacrificed as votive offerings.