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Sacred Felines: The History of the Cat Part 1

 by zack on 19 Oct 2012 |
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Everyone knows that cats are great companions: aloof and precocious, as well as excellent hunters. However, not many people have as much knowledge on exactly how the common house cat achieved its position of influence and allure. The funny thing is the history of the cat and its relationship with humankind goes back so far, no one is really even sure of when it began. Cat history is an intriguing and diverting mystery with many questions unanswered, and plenty of fascinating recorded facts.

Most scientists agree that every variety of common housecat and many of their feral cousins came from just five different ancient wildcats. The earliest record of their domestication comes from the Greek isle of Cyprus. This evidence currently goes back as far as 12,000 years!  That’s 7500 BC for those of you keeping track.

What’s odd about that number is that it’s been pushed back several times. Every few years or so there is a new archeological finding of a fossilized cat small enough to be domesticated, and in close enough proximity to the remains of a human being as to start speculating on an even older starting point for the history of the cat’s domestication. With archeologists finding new large megalithic structures indicating that agricultural societies might have been around much longer than the current academic model assumes, it’s quite possible that the origin of domesticated cat history may get pushed back even further.

While it’s fascinating to speculate on the beginning of our complicated relationship with domestic cats, we don’t have to guess as to how it happened. The overwhelming g consensus on the subject is that initially domestic cats took root at about the same time humans settled into agrarian societies. As soon as people started farming, they started storing surplus crops. When crops had to be stored, rodents and vermin began to start swiping valuable grains. Cats started moving into the storehouses and picking of the especially plump ones. Over time, humans began to breed the ones that showed more docility.

From then on it was a rich and diverse history for domestic cats. They continued to interbreed with their feral counterparts, muddying up the bloodlines and making their exact origins difficult to pin down. This seems in keeping with their mysterious personalities, which ironically is probably why they were so endeared them to the human species.

Another better known chapter in the history of the cat is their connection to and deification within ancient Egypt. Domestic cats were revered to the point of worship. Ironically, the Egyptian word for cat was “Mao” a bit of a cognate for meow. It’s said that there was even a death penalty for killing a cat. Cats were considered sacred animals, in all probability because of their ability to keep down the rodent population as well as their proficiency at killing cobras. Not bad company to keep when your fields are being overrun by asps.

That’s it for today’s history lesson. Check back tomorrow for part 2 of The History of the Cat!


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