A Short History Of Cats

A Short History Of Cats

It seems strange that there was ever a time when cats were not a part of our lives. 
It's been less that 10,000 years since cats swaggered into our lives. Hardly an eye blink in 
the grand sweep of life on this planet. Why were cats so late to join our team? The simple 
answer is they didn't need us to survive. Cats were surviving just fine on their own. Then, 
people invented agriculture. Agriculture resulted in large scale storage of grains which 
attracted the usual and well know group of freeloaders, mice and rats. Grain attracted 
rodents. Rodents attracted cats who consider them tasty meals. The result was that cats 
set up housekeeping close to human settlements. Eventually, cats being cats, moved right 
on 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 in a great 
sweep from modern day Turkey to Egypt. Within this area ranges the African wild cat, 
Felis libyca. African wild cats are slightly larger that our modern house cats and are 
yellow in color with muted stripes. These cats have a docile, almost laid back nature. 
Interestingly, these cats still tend to live and hunt near human dwellings today. Locals 
still like to catch and rear young wild cats as pets. When mature, wild cats raised by 
humans tend to behave very much like our familiar housecats. A very good case can (and 
has) been advanced designating Felis libyca as the principal founding population for 
domestic cats. At least two other varieties of wild cat are speculated to have contributed 
to the genetic make up of domestic cats. One is Felis silvestris, The European wildcat 
who appears to have contributed darker markings and a peppery spirit to the African wild 
cat base. Also, from Asia, comes the Pallas or Steppe cat (Felis manul) that appears to 
have contributed long-haired coats to the mix.

The early period of domestication of cats is vague with only patches of evidence. 
However, by 6,000 B.C. statues found in Anatolia (modern Turkey) show women playing 
with domestic cats. Cats had clearly become common and affectionate pets by that time. 
The earliest written records about cats appear by approximately 4,000 B.C. in Egypt 
where they were frequently kept to hunt mice and rats from stored grains. It was a good 
time to be a cat in ancient Egypt. Domestic cats were thought to be the embodiment of 
the goddess Bast (or Bastet). There was a necropolis at her principal temple at Bubastis 
that contained mummified cats.

Romans spread the domestic cat northward into central Europe and westward to 
Britain during the expansion of their empire. Cats were quickly adopted and admired as 
great hunters.  And they continued to move north and east in Europe.  The Vikings used 
cats as both rodent hunters and pets. The Viking goddess of love and war, Freyja, was 
associated with cats. Huge winged cats drew her chariot. It also became the custom to 
give new brides a kitten in her name. 

The Middle Ages it were a very bad time to be a cat. Cats were said to be witches 
familiars, in league with the devil. Because of this superstition, cats were routinely killed 
during festivals. Sometimes they were even burned alive or thrown off tall buildings. The 
Europeans paid heavily for their cruelty to cats. The deaths of so many cats allowed the 
rodent population to rise out of control, bringing in the Black Death which killed so much 
of the European population. Eventually, the cats' cleanly ways and hunting prowess 
redeemed them in the eyes of the people of Europe. By the 1600s, people in France began 
putting little holes near the bottom of their doors to allow their cats to enter and leave as 
they please.

In Asia cats continued to be familiar hunters and cherished pets. Cats were often 
subjects for drawing and painting in China. In Japan, cats in the form of Maneki Neko, 
usually portrayed as a sitting cat with one paw raised and bent, are considered good 
fortune. They are often found in businesses to draw in money.

The history of cats is a fascinating one, worthy of much more in depth study. It 
fosters an appreciation for the personalities and talents of our pets. 

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