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A Brief History of Cats

It seems strange that there was ever a time when cats were not a part of our lives. It has been less than 10,000 years since cats entered ou...

It seems strange that there was ever a time when cats were not a part of our lives. It has been less than 10,000 years since cats entered our lives. In barely a blink of an eye in the vast span of life on this planet, We encourage you to read Dog History in general.

A Brief History of Cats

Why did cats join our team so late?

The simple answer is that they did not need us to survive. Cats were doing just fine on their own. Then humans invented agriculture. Agriculture led to grain being stored on a large scale, which attracted the usual and well-known group of freeloaders: mice and rats. Grain attracted rodents. Rodents attracted cats, who considered them a tasty meal. The result was that cats settled near human settlements. And since cats are cats, they moved right in.

Who were these first cats? 

The first clue lies in where agriculture was first practiced. Agriculture first took root (no pun intended) in the Middle East, stretching from what is now Turkey to Egypt. It was in this area that the African wild cat lived, Felis Libya. African wild cats are slightly larger than our modern domestic cats and are yellow in color with muted stripes. These cats have a good-natured, almost laid-back nature. 

Interestingly, these cats still like to live and hunt near human dwellings. Locals still like to catch young feral cats and raise them as pets. When they are fully grown, feral cats raised by humans tend to behave very much like our familiar domestic cats. There is a good case to be made that Felis Libya is (and was) the primary source population for domestic cats. 

It is speculated that at least two other wild cat species contributed to the genetic makeup of the domestic cat. One is Felis silvestris, the European wildcat, which appears to have contributed darker markings and a peppery temperament to the base of the African wildcat. Also from Asia is the Pallas or steppe cat (Felis manul), which appears to have contributed long-haired fur to the mix.

The early period of domestication of cats is only fragmentarily attested. However, around 6,000 BC, statues were found in Anatolia (modern Turkey) showing women playing with domestic cats. By this time, cats had clearly become common and affectionate pets

The earliest written records of cats come from Egypt (c. 4,000 BC), where they were often kept to chase mice and rats from granaries. It was a good time to be a cat in ancient Egypt. Domestic cats were considered the embodiment of the goddess Bast (or Bastet). In her main temple at Bubastis was a necropolis that contained mummified cats.

The Romans spread the domestic cat northward into central Europe during the expansion of their empire and westward into 

Britain during the expansion of their empire. Cats were quickly adopted and admired as great hunters. And they continued to migrate north and east into Europe. The Vikings used cats both as rodent hunters and as pets. The Viking goddess of love and war, Freyja, was associated with cats. Giant-winged cats pulled her chariot. It was also customary to give new brides a kitten in her name. 

In the Middle Ages, it was a very bad time to be a cat. Cats were considered confidants of witches who were in league with the devil. Because of this superstition, cats were regularly killed at feasts. Sometimes they were even burned alive or thrown from high buildings. 

The Europeans paid heavily for their cruelty to cats. The deaths of so many cats caused the rodent population to spiral out of control, resulting in the Black Death, which killed much of the European population. Eventually, cats were saved in the eyes of the people of Europe by their clean living and hunting abilities. In the 1600s, people in France began to put small holes at the bottom of their doors so that their cats could enter and exit at will.

In Asia, cats continued to be familiar hunters and valued pets. In China, cats were frequent subjects for drawings and paintings. In Japan, cats are considered lucky in the form of the Maneki Neko, usually depicted as a sitting cat with one paw raised and curled. 

They are often found in stores to collect money. The history of cats is a fascinating story worth studying in more detail. It fosters an appreciation for the personalities and talents of our pets.

Frequently Asked Questions

The simple answer is that they did not need us to survive. Cats were doing just fine on their own. Then humans invented agriculture. Agriculture led to grain being stored on a large scale, which attracted the usual and well-known group of freeloaders: mice and rats.

The first clue lies in where agriculture was first practiced. Agriculture first took root (no pun intended) in the Middle East, stretching from what is now Turkey to Egypt. It was in this area that the African wild cat lived, Felis Libya.

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