Mummified Cat|jon_downes||02/02/04 at 20:36:33|jon_downes|xx|0||

A MUMMIFIED cat discovered in one of Edinburgh’s oldest buildings by
workers restoring a painted ceiling is to go on display in a city museum.

The well-preserved skeletal figure was found above a fireplace in a
disused room of Moubray House in the Royal Mile.

Experts believe the cat was deliberately placed there nearly 300 years ago
as part of a superstition designed to frighten off evil spirits.

The cat was discovered when the Cockburn Conservation Trust, which has its
office in the building, had arranged for a ceiling erected in the 1920s to
be removed five years ago.

Workmen were busy dismantling a section to uncover the elaborately
decorated original ceiling underneath when the cat suddenly fell to the

Laura Norris, director of the Cockburn Conservation Trust, said the
workmen were stunned by the discovery.

She said: "I was downstairs and could hear rather a lot of screaming. It
was quite funny to see these big, strong men so surprised."

The trust contacted the National Museums of Scotland to find out if they
were interested in exhibiting the unusual find.

Andrew Kitchener, curator of mammals and birds at the National Museums of
Scotland, said he believed the mummified cat was placed there during the
early 18th century.

He said: "There was a small fragment of a letter alongside it with the
date 1725 in one corner. We think that may be the time it was put there.

"It was quite common during that period for dead cats to be placed in the
wall cavities of homes to bring good luck and to drive away vermin. They
tend to turn up in old houses now and again.

"Sometimes a dead mouse or rat would be put there too so the cat would
know what kind of vermin it was supposed to be scaring away."

The animal is now set to play a central role in an exhibition at the Royal
Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street on felines from around the world.
The show will feature all 37 known species of wild cat from the largest,
the tiger, to the smallest, the rusty spotted cat from India and Sri

The exhibition, entitled Cats - The Ultimate Predators, starts on February

Mr Kitchener added: "This cat will help to illustrate the relationship
between cats and people and show how the animals were often revered as

"The cat wasn’t mummified before it was placed there but over the years
the body would have dried out and became like that. The fur was lost a
long time ago so it is now just skin. It was an ordinary domestic cat."

Doctor Emily Lyle, of Edinburgh University’s School of Scottish Studies,
said the practice of putting dead animals into buildings was quite common
across Europe in the 18th century.

"The idea is that the life force coming from it gives strength to the
building," she said.

One theory is the cat was the victim of a ritual killing so that the body
could be put above the hearth as a good luck charm.

Apart from the cat and the letter, other items discovered in the room
included a thimble, pipes and oyster shells.

Moubray House is the oldest building on the High Street, as well as the
oldest occupied building in the city. Although the frontage dates from
around 1630, the house was originally built around 1477 by Robert Moubray.
It is believed Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, edited the
Edinburgh Courant there in 1710.

The Cockburn Conservation Trust has received a grant of £4800 from the
Architectural Heritage Fund to conduct a feasibility study into preserving
the room where the cat was found.