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Wooden toy cat

British Museum

British Museum

This small feline in wood is perhaps a cat or a lion. It has moveable jaws and teeth made of bronze. It was probably used as a child’s toy. Very few of these toys survived. It is often difficult to establish their use or if they had a religious or ritual purpose.

Cats may have been kept as pets as early as the fourth millennium BC. From the Twelfth Dynasty (from about 2000 BC), cats are shown in tomb decoration, seated beneath the chair of the deceased or accompanying him on a hunt. There is a fine example of the latter type of scene in the tomb of Nebamun (a scribe in charge of grain collection for the city). It shows a ginger cat catching birds in its mouth and with all four paws. Such hunting scenes may also represent the struggle between civilised humans and the forces of chaos, shown as wild fowl.

By the late first millennium BC cats were bred on an industrial scale for use in the cult of the cat goddess Bastet, to whom many mummies of cats were offered. Ra was daughter of the sun god Ra and symbolised protective aspects. This was in opposition of the lioness goddess Sekhmet (‘She who is powerful’) who incarnates aggressive aspects. The kings of Egypt themselves were often associated to the lion, which represents strength and power.

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  • Title: Wooden toy cat
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 53.00mm; Length: 117.00mm; Width: 30.00mm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Subject: cat; mammal
  • Registration number: 1885,0618.11
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Thebes
  • Period/culture: New Kingdom
  • Material: wood; bronze; rock crystal
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Chester, Greville John

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