Animals in ancient Egypt were used for food, clothing, to provide transport and traction and also were associated with different gods and goddesses. We should not think however that the Egyptians worshipped all animals. Instead they represented the characteristics of their gods by showing them in animal form. For example, a fierce goddess might be shown as a lioness; a peaceful, gentle goddess as a cow. That is why the Egyptians often portrayed their gods in the shape of animals or with the heads of animals.
Hathor, as a peaceful and gentle goddess, was shown as a cow. Bastet, a goddess of fertility and motherliness, could be shown as a cat. The bloodlusting Sekhmet could be shown as a lioness. A frog has many tadpoles and is thus a symbol of fecundity brought by the goddess Heket.
Occasionally, the Egyptians also believed that gods could dwell in animals. This was probably the nearest the Egyptians got to actually worshipping animals. The Buchis bull, for example, was an incarnation of the god Montu. In this case you can see coffin clamps which are from the coffin of a Buchis bull. The Apis bull, which is shown on the footboards of three coffins in this case, was an incarnation of Ptah. The Apis is often painted on footboards of coffins because the Apis was thought to carry the deceased to the afterlife. Both Apis and Buchis were recognised from others by particular markings and actions. Once the Buchis or Apis was recognised it was worshipped like a god and when it died it would be mummified. Another Buchis or Apis was then chosen to replace it.
There are several animal mummies in this case. The Egyptians mummified animals for several reasons. Occasionally they were mummified because they were pets and the Egyptians wanted them to go to the afterlife like their owners. Animals were also mummified to provide food for the deceased in the afterlife. However, by far the most common type of mummified animal is the votive offering. The giving of mummified animals to the gods became particularly popular in the later periods of Egyptian history. All the mummified animals in this case are votive offerings. They were killed and mummified to be given to the gods as a gift. The crocodile mummy, for example, was a young crocodile killed, mummified and given to the crocodile god Sobek. In the Graeco Roman Period thousands upon thousands of animals were killed and mummified in this way. One of the most common animals to suffer this fate was the cat who was given to the cat goddess, Bastet. Studies of the remains of cats show they were only kittens when killed.
Animal related objects in the Egypt Centre include:
Amulets of animals (general)
Apes and monkeys
Fish-shaped palettes or dishes from Amarna
Open cosmetic palettes or spoons in the shape of fish or ducks.
W1327 Ostracon showing Hathor in cow form
W1155 Gazelle ring bezel
W1155a Centipede, hedgehog or gazelle ring bezel
W946 Stela to the mother of a Buchis bull
W2060 Duck-legged stool