In ancient Egypt, mummified cats were considered a reverent gift to the gods. The gifts were intended to last forever, to appease a deity in the hopes that they would help a mortal achieve their goals. There were hundreds of thousands of these gifts, perhaps millions.
Now, many of the sacred objects have been turned into dirt to fertilize crops.
Cats as Sacrifices
In ancient Egypt, cats were important cultural animals, but that doesn’t mean they were always treated well. Certainly, family cats were given names and respect as both mouse-chasers and companions. However, not all cats lived the charmed life. The demand for cat mummies as sacrifices was so high that historians believe farmers bred cats in captivity specifically to be killed and sold as sacrifices.
A Morbid Discovery
In fact, there were so many sacrificial cats that millions have been found, and people hardly even know what to do with them all. In 1888, a farmer digging in the sand found an enormous deposit—hundreds of thousands of cats! This was clearly a place for leaving sacrifices.
What is there to do with heaps of cat mummies? Surely a single body may have important information or collector’s value. However, when there are too many of one item in a market, the item loses value. If there were a million Mona Lisas, the one in the Louvre wouldn’t be anything special—or worth much money.
So, some of the nicest-looking mummies were collected and sold, going to museums and private collections. However, according to sources collected by StrangeHistory.net, about 180,000 of those cats were sent to Liverpool. There, they were ground up and put in the ground to fertilize crops.
Bodies as Fertilizer
It may seem tragic that animals destined to live on eternally as offerings to great gods ended up mixed in with manure and thrown in the dirt. However, the bodies of animals such as cats are filled with nutrients that microorganisms eat and turn into rich soil. Farmers use that soil to grow food, and in turn, that food feeds people and animals.
The ancient Egyptians hoped that the cats would live forever in some way when they killed and mummified the animals. While it might have been more respectful to simply leave the mummies as they were, at least they were able to serve humanity in the circle of life by helping crops in England grow.
By Kristin Hugo, contributor for Ripleys.com
Kristin Hugo is a science journalist with writing in National Geographic, Newsweek, and PBS Newshour. She’s especially experienced in covering animals, bones, and anything weird or gross. When not writing, Kristin is spray painting and cleaning bones in her New York City yard. Find her on Twitter at @KristinHugo, Tumblr at @StrangeBiology, and Instagram at @thestrangebiology.