Cemeteries are rather strange places, somewhere that represents an abundance of sorrow for some and a place of peace and happiness for others – an opportunity for families to visit loved ones who have passed, keeping their memory alive.
One unexpected visitor that you’re sure to have spotted on a visit to the cemetery comes in the shape of a cat.
Many of us are bound to have spotted a cat sitting pride of place on a tombstone before but we have likely brushed it off as a coincidence.
A coincidence though it may be, there’s no denying that our feline friends visit cemeteries pretty regularly. The same is true the world over.
It’s likely that cats are drawn to the calm nature of a graveyard. Somewhere with no hustle and bustle and with plenty of places for them to soak up the sun and sleep the day away.
However, if we take a look back some 5000 years, cats were continually represented within social and religious practices in ancient Egypt; being routinely depicted accompanying humans into the afterlife.
In fact, several ancient Egyptian deities (gods and goddesses) were portrayed with cat-like heads. Namely, Mafdet, who protected against snakes and scorpions, Bastet, the goddess of protection and Sekhmet, the goddess of both war and healing.
Back in ancient Egypt, cats were heavily praised since the First Dynasty of Egypt for taking on venomous snakes and therefore protecting the Pharaoh.
The protective nature of cats is indicated in the Book of the Dead in which a cat represents Ra, god of the sun.
Feline themed trinkets and decorations were used during the New Kingdom of Egypt period also, indicating that the popularity of the animal only gained traction.
As Terry Pratchett famously commented: “In ancient times cats were worshiped as gods. They have not forgotten this.”
The ancient relationship between cats and the humans even in death has transpired even further still in recent years.
FRisk is a wakeup call for the millions of people with no will or protection in place for their own death.
Ten years ago, the world’s oldest known pet cemetery began to be discovered just outside of the city walls of a Roman town, near a rubbish dump in South East Egypt.
100 animals were unearthed here but at this time, it was unclear whether the archaeologists had uncovered a cemetery or simply a ‘dumping ground’ for deceased animals.
The original findings were published in 2016 and it wasn’t until earlier this year, in the early months of 2021 that it became clear that the discovery was unique.
Archaeologists uncovered what is now recognised as the world’s oldest known pet cemetery in Berenice, Egypt.
The 2000-year-old cemetery was dedicated solely to cats, dogs and monkeys, with just shy of 600 animals being discovered, 90 per cent of which were cats.
Researchers believe that this demonstrates and reinforces the bond between humans and cats reaching back thousands of years.
This is likely the oldest cemetery of its kind in the world, according to archaeologists from the Polish Academy of Sciences who believe that the site was in use from around the mid-first to mid-second century AD.
The relationship between death and cats also spreads to folklore. In Finnish mythology, cats led the souls of the dead to the underworld, while in Transylvania – if a cat jumped over a dead body, it was believed the corpse was a vampire.
Back to present day now, cemetery sites across the globe continue to play host to curious cats.
The Yanaka area of Tokyo is famous for its sizeable population of stray cats, many of which choose to roam around and live in, you guessed it, the Yanaka Cemetery.
The cemetery is one of the most famous landmarks of the neighbourhood due to the fact that it is widely accepted and respected as being where a community of cats call home.
Often visitors remark that the cats can be a great source of comfort for those who visit, frequently acting on their curiosity and approaching humans with a little head nudge or weaving between their ankles, making their presence known in often emotional situations.
It seems that the association between cats and our final resting places is here to stay; whether you are inclined to believe that they are curiously there for a deeper reason or simply just to soak up the sunshine in a peaceful setting.