Ancient Egyptian Mummified Cat Is Actually Several Different Cats with Textile Ball in Place of the Head

An ancient Egyptian mummified cat thought to be a single creature was actually made up of body parts from several different felines, and had a textile ball in place of the head, scientists in France have announced.

The team scanned the 2,500-year-old mummy, held at the Museum of Fine Arts in Rennes, using advanced technology that allowed them to create a 3D image of its insides. Rather than just one cat, the team found that inside the case were five hind legs and three tails, made up of at least three individual cats, a statement from the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) said.

It has long been known the ancient Egyptians mummified cats and other animals. In 2015, archaeologists uncovered a tomb with almost eight million mummified dogs. Last year, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced that dozens of mummified cats and 100 cat statues had been found inside a 4,500-year-old tomb.

Cats are represented throughout ancient Egyptian history, with felines being used to depict several different deities. They were kept as pets and DNA evidence even suggests the civilization played a huge role in the dispersal of cats around the world.

mummified cat
Image showing the mummified cat. The first is the mummy, the second is a 3D rendering of the bones and textile ball, the third is a reconstruction of the artifact. INTRAP

The 3D digital model of the mummified cat in Rennes helps researchers better understand how these animals were treated and the trade practices that likely took place when the cats died. Scientists were expecting to see the body of a single cat. Instead, they discovered there was no skull, vertebrae or ribs. Instead, it contained the partial remains of three felines and a textile ball positioned in the place of the head.

In a statement, Theophane Nicolas, one of the researchers who worked on the project, said: "There are millions of animal mummies, but few have been imaged. Some are empty, others contain only one bone, sometimes the cat is complete. The mummy of Rennes is a variant. Some researchers believe that we are dealing with an ancient scam organized by unscrupulous priests."

Nicolas said that rather than being part of a scam, the team believes this is just one of many methods the ancient Egyptians had for mummifying animals. He said the next step will be to perform scans on more mummies to find out if their creature is an exception. "We will know more once we have made a body of imagery, which joins a field of study that is developing on a global scale," he said.