Sarcophagus of Prince Thutmose’s Cat Ta-Miu

Prince Thutmose is best remembered for the limestone sarcophagus of his cat, Ta-miu (she-cat). The body of this sarcophagus of a cat is completely decorated with scenes, while the lid is inscribed with hieroglyphs. It shows the cat sitting before an offering table heaped with goodies for the afterlife. It seems that her owner wanted her to enjoy her time after death as much as she had appreciated being a cosseted royal pet in life. The back of the sarcophagus shows a cat at a table laden with offerings and a lotus flower, the sign of resurrection and rebirth.

Sarcophagus of Prince Thutmose’s Cat Ta-Miu
Sarcophagus of Prince Thutmose’s Cat Ta-Miu

There are two reasons to mummify a cat, the first of these is to provide a pet with a caring burial (like Ta-miu), and the second, more common reason is for ritual purposes. A number of animals including cats were mummified to serve as ritual offerings to the gods. Cats were often offered to the cat-headed goddess Bastet as votives, with the practice of mummifying animals peaking in the 1st Millenium BC.

Sarcophagus of Prince Thutmose’s Cat Ta-Miu, detail
Sarcophagus of Prince Thutmose’s Cat Ta-Miu, detail

The front of the sarcophagus depicts a large cat standing in front of a table heaped with different kinds of offerings including bread, beer, beheaded geese, and the foreleg of an ox. Behind the cat stands the cat goddess Bastet, completely wrapped.

The sides of the sarcophagus are decorated with scenes of the goddess Isis sitting on a hieroglyphic sign and stretching out her wings. On the left, a god holds two Nu jars for pouring libations. The back of the sarcophagus shows a cat at a table laden with offerings and a lotus flower, the sign of resurrection and rebirth.

Sarcophagus of Prince Thutmose’s Cat Ta-Miu
Sarcophagus of Prince Thutmose’s Cat Ta-Miu

Huge numbers of animals were often stored on mass in underground galleries. As this was done on such a large scale, most of the mummified cats which were offered as votives were kittens, this was so that the temple could continue to produce these votives without spending unnecessary time raising an adult cat.

New Kingdom, late 18th Dynasty, reign of Amenhotep III, ca. 1391-1353 BC. From Memphis. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 30172

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