As regards the origin of the domesticated cats of western Europe, it is well known that the ancient Egyptians were in the habit of domesticating (at least in some degree) the Egyptian race of the African wild cat (Felis ocreata maniculata), and also of embalming its remains, of which vast numbers have been found in tombs at Beni Hasan and elsewhere in Egypt.
These conditions have been specially studied and applied in connexion with the preserving of food (see Food Preservation) and in the ancient practice of embalming the dead, which is the earliest illustration of the systematic use of antiseptics (see Embalming).
The dissection of the human body, of which some doubtful traces or hints only are found in Greek times, was assiduously carried out, being favoured or even suggested perhaps by the Egyptian custom of disembowelling and embalming the bodies of the dead.
In embalming their dead the Egyptians filled the cavity of the belly with every sort of spicery except frankincense (Herod.
The process of embalming seems to have varied.
The work of embalming was reserved for a special class, women for female corpses, men for male.
Embalming seems not to have been universal, and bodies were often simply hidden in caves or buried.
To begin with, he was the god of the dead, of the cemetery, of all supplies for the dead, and therefore of embalming when that became customary.
It was not until the New Kingdom that the processes of embalming reached a high degree of elaboration.
Their stricter leaders, however, objected to a custom which so easily led to the worship of relics and the continuance of pagan observances; and with the advent of Islam embalming fell into disuse.
Outside Egypt mummification was practised amongst the ancient Peruvians, who took advantage of the desiccating atmosphere and salt soil of their caves for preserving the dead in good condition without any embalming process.