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.
He called one to him in the grey morning watch, when the day was just breaking, and taking his hand, said that while in Nantucket he had chanced to see certain little canoes of dark wood, like the rich war-wood of his native isle; and upon inquiry, he had learned that all whalemen who died in Nantucket, were laid in those same dark canoes, and that the fancy of being so laid had much pleased him; for it was not unlike the custom of his own race, who, after embalming a dead warrior, stretched him out in his canoe, and so left him to be floated away to the starry archipelagoes; for not only do they believe that the stars are isles, but that far beyond all visible horizons, their own mild, uncontinented seas, interflow with the blue heavens; and so form the white breakers of the milky way.
It was not until the New Kingdom that the processes of embalming reached a high degree of elaboration.
In embalming their dead the Egyptians filled the cavity of the belly with every sort of spicery except frankincense (Herod.
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.
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.
The process of embalming seems to have varied.
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.
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).
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.