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Specimen of the Week 391: The Domestic Cat Skeleton

By Katie Davenport-Mackey, on 17 January 2020

This blog was written by UCL Culture volunteer Jingyuan Zou.

The Grant Museum not only has many fascinating specimens in its collection such as the subfossils of extinct giant deer and dodo bones, skeletons of lions and dugongs, but also many common domestic animals that we may see in everyday life. Many people may be familiar with the appearance of an extinct animal such as saber-toothed cat, however often the skeletons of more common animals are the most unfamiliar specimens viewed from a museum. This week’s Specimen of the Week features one such ‘common’ animal that looks quite different in its Grant Museum guise…

**The Domestic Cat Skeleton**


LDUCZ-Z2602 Felis silvestris catus Domestic cat skeleton

Allow me to introduce Felis silvestris catus the domestic cat. This specimen is an articulated mounted skeleton of a cat found in the museum alongside several different non-domestic Felis skulls for comparison.

Comparing the skeletal structures of different animals has been the business of the Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy for nearly 200 years. Anatomy, zoology and paleontology students use the collection to learn about morphological characteristics, similarities and differences between similar and different animal species. On top of that, for public visitors such as children, this cat skeleton may encourage them to see museum specimens from a different perspective. It may further encourage people in general to reconsider their ‘biased’ preference of unusual skeletons in the course of visiting, which coincides with museums’ optimal goal of informing people of a wide range of specimens that are to an extent equally important.

Cats have had many profound implications in human history. Based on the archaeological evidence, the domestication of animals started to emerge in most parts of the world during the early Holocene mainly because of climate amelioration[1]. Moreover, as a symbol of sacred semi-divine figures, cats also provide evidence for ancient animal worship in Egypt[2]. These shreds of evidence imply the common animals may also play a significant role in different contexts, which sheds light on the notion that rarity is not necessarily the most important factor for studying a specimen. Unlike other domestic animals such as hens and goats, cats do not provide primary or secondary products and while they once were widely kept to keep vermin in check, in the modern age, they are kept mainly as pets for companionship, demonstrating a change in role for enriching people’s social life.

Echoing a previous event in the Grant Museum named The Museum of Ordinary Animals, the value of common specimens has been recognized more widely in museums, for they provide us with vital opportunities to perceive the familiar with an unfamiliar perspective. This is because understanding an existing animal in an anatomical point-of-view would make visitors realize the unexpected information can also be derived from such a familiar animal like a domestic cat. For example, the mummified cats are likely to be shown in Grant Egyptian Museum[3], which shows the power of ordinary.

[1] Barker, G., 2006. The agricultural revolution in prehistory: why did foragers become farmers? Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[2] Michaelson, R. (2019). Mummified lion and dozens of cats among rare finds in Egypt. [online]. the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/nov/23/mummified-lion-cats-rare-finds-egypt-saqqara-animals [Accessed 19 Dec. 2019].

[3] Ibid.

3 Responses to “Specimen of the Week 391: The Domestic Cat Skeleton”

  • 1
    Grow wrote on 5 March 2020:


  • 2
    Doug Salmon wrote on 8 May 2020:

    How is the skeleton prepared?

  • 3
    Lisa Randisi wrote on 13 May 2020:

    Hi Doug. Please email museums@ucl.ac.uk with your questions, so that we can pass them on to the right member of staff.

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