Ugly Object of the Month — January 2018

Happy New Year, Kelsey Blog readers! What better way to begin 2018’s Ugly Object series than with a seriously cute cat coffin? This creative work of bilateral symmetry once held the remains of a mummified cat. The feline shape and decorative elements are charming (just look at those eyes! and the suggestion of a mane around the face…), but what I love most about this coffin is the surprise that comes with discovering that it opens side to side instead of top to bottom. As a result, the coffin’s base is effectively the cat’s seat, and the resulting form is upright, alert, and lifelike. The coffin is displayed closed, so it’s hard to appreciate the fact that, except for a couple of attached ears, its halves are carved from a single, hollowed cut of wood. Wood was a precious commodity in Egypt, so this coffin was nothing to sneeze at. This would have been a fitting enclosure for a creature so closely linked to the divine.

You can see this coffin and other feline-themed artifacts in the Graeco-Roman Egypt gallery of the Upjohn Exhibit Wing.

Cat mummy coffin
Cat mummy coffin, Roman period, 1st–2nd c. AD, Wood, plaster, paint, glass, 36 cm high, 9.5 cm wide, said to be from Saqqara, Egypt. Department of Antiquities purchase, 1935, KM 88775. Photos by Randal Stegmeyer.