Bandages for Bastet: a study of three Egyptian cat mummies

Luise Ørsted Brandt, Anne Haslund Hansen, Chiara Villa, Hussein Shokry

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


This article reports the investigation of one resource for the animal cults: the textiles. It details the study of three animal mummies at the National Museum of Denmark to learn more about their contents, construction and bandages. Computed tomography (CT) scanning and experimental archaeology were used to calculate the quantities of textiles used for animal mummifi cation and the time spent in producing them. Based on this study, the potential of CT-scanning as a non-destructive method for the study of textiles is evaluated. Finally, the evidence is used to discuss the use, reuse and economic and ritual role of textiles in animal cults.Animal mummies in ancient EgyptCatacombs in ancient Egyptian necropoles have yielded and still contain hundreds of thousands and even millions of animal mummies (Ikram 2005; Nicholson et al. 2015). The numbers are so enormous that sources indicate that animal mummies were even used as ship’s ballast and subsequently sold as mummy-products as fuel, fertiliser and even medicine, pigments and paper (Elliott 2017). However, some were also collected as curiosities and have survived in museums and private collections around the world (Baber 2019).Animal mummies can be divided into six categories: pet mummies, victual mummies, sacred mummies, votive mummies, false mummies and other mummies. Of these, the votive mummies were by far the most common and also form the most diverse group in terms of species with dedicated resting places. They include, among others, dogs, cats, ibises, raptors, crocodiles, and baboons (Ikram 2005, 2019). It is these votive mummies which are the subject of this study.Animals were a part of the religious belief system of the ancient Egyptians. They were thought to be or contain a ba, part of the soul of their associated deity that would be active in both this life and the next one. Votive mummies were popular as they were believed to communicate messages to the gods (Bleiberg et al. AbstractAnimal cults in ancient Egypt were popular especially in the Late and Greco-Roman periods, where tens of thousands of voƟ ve mummies were dedicated annually in catacombs in large necropoles. This arƟ cle focuses on one of the resources required for the producƟ on of animal mummies, the texƟ les for bandages, in order to beƩ er understand the economic impact and organisaƟ on of animal cults. A study of three animal mummies from the NaƟ onal Museum of Denmark using computed tomography (CT) scanning and experimental archaeology calculated the quanƟ Ɵ es of texƟ les used for animal mummifi caƟ on. Two complete cat mummies contained enƟ re cat skeletons while a separate head of a cat was modelled enƟ rely from texƟ le. The study demonstrates that at least 1 to 1.6 m2 of texƟ les was used to wrap a cat mummy and that therefore large quanƟ Ɵ es of texƟ le were required for animal cults. TexƟ les, in addiƟ on to other resources for mummifi ca-Ɵ on, were in high demand at large necropoles: their evidence off ers new insights into one aspect of the complex process of mummifi caƟ on and emphasises the large economic and organisaƟ onal scale of the animal cults.
Original languageEnglish
JournalArchaeological Textiles Review
Issue number62
Pages (from-to)6-20
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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