Ancient Egypt comes to Lerwick

The statue of the Egyptian cat goddess Bastet about to visit Shetland. Pic. British Museum

ONE OF the most popular artefacts in the British Museum in London is about to visit Shetland for three months.

The small bronze cat with its tail wrapped around its around its feet and golden earrings in its ears and nose was crafted in ancient Egypt 2,500 years ago and discovered by retired British army major Robert Greville ‘John’ Gayer-Anderson in 1939.


The Gayer-Anderson cat is one of several prized possession which are being loaned out to regional museums at no cost, funded by a £100,000 Arts Fund museum prize for the hugely successful BBC Radio 4 series and book The History of the World in 100 Objects.

The cat is so popular in London that it had its own exhibition a few years ago and this will only be the third time it has travelled outside the capital.

Gayer-Anderson, an army doctor and administrator, was an enthusiastic collector and restorer of ancient metal objects and doubts were raised about the cat’s authenticity until a scientific investigation in 2007 revealed it to be genuine.


The cat is made from a copper alloy, its necklace is silver and its ear and nose rings are gold, and though not original they are probably ancient. X-rays showed the major had carried out some repairs.

This statue is probably of the cat goddess Bastet and would have been likely left in a temple to aid communication with the gods. Its size, precious metal inlays and jewellery suggest it could have been by a pharaoh or at least a very wealthy person.


The cat’s visit to Shetland follows the 2011 exhibition of the Lewis Chessmen, and will hopefully lead to a series of loans in an on-going partnership with the British Museum.

It will be on display in the museum’s foyer from Saturday 8 September to Sunday 9 December.

On the opening morning the British Museum’s keeper of ancient Egypt and Sudan will give a lecture on the cat in the museum at 11.30am. This will be a free event with no booking required.

Details of additional children and family workshops will be run during the three months to help people learn more about this fascinating object.