How is it that we came to live with these furry little creatures? Well, the answers go back thousands and thousands of years. Let me take you on a trip back in time to the origins of Felis Silvestris Catus, the domestic cat.
The Near Eastern Wildcat (Felis Silvestris Lybica)
Anyone who lives with a cat knows there’s a bit of the wild still lurking inside. This can be attributed to the Near Eastern wildcat from whom every modern domestic moggy is descended. Felis Silvestris Lybica still roams Northern Africa and the Middle East, and one genetic study suggests that they first set up a co-habitation arrangement with humans as long as 12,000 years ago.
This was about the time that humans in the area stopped being nomadic and settled down to farm. This meant the storing of surplus crops which also meant that rodents became a serious issue. Enter the cat – the ultimate rodent control system.
The European Wildcat (Felis Silvestris Silvestris)
The Near Eastern wildcat is descended from the European wildcat. During ice ages, most European wild cats packed up their kit bags and headed south in search of warmer climes. Some, however, were able to tough it out in Mediterranean refuges and then repopulated central and northern Europe during interglacial periods. Those who did get the hell out of there eventually evolved into the various sub-species of African and Asian wildcats.
Early archaeological findings
The earliest archaeological evidence of feline domestication came from a grave in Cyprus which was discovered in 2004. Here, a cat had been buried with a human 9,500 years ago. The fact that there was a cat on Cyprus at all was itself evidence that cats had been domesticated. Wildcats are not indigenous to the
island and the probability of lashing, extremely pissed off wildcats being brought over on boats is slim!
The Egyptians really dug cats
As we all know, ancient Egyptians revered cats and a number of feline goddesses were worshipped. The first of which was Mafdet who dates back to the First Dynasty of 2920-2770 BC, but the most well-known, and most enduring, was Bastet who was worshipped from the Second Dynasty onwards.
Even the sun god Ra was sometimes represented as a cat, as is the case in an inscription found on a royal tomb at Thebes, dating from approximately 2300 BC:
Thou art the Great Cat, the avenger of the Gods, and the judge of words, and the president of the sovereign chiefs, and the governor of the holy Circle; thou art indeed…the Great Cat.
Domestic cats were held in such high regard in ancient Egypt that it was customary for family members to shave off their eyebrows on the death of a household cat who would be mummified and buried in the family tomb or a pet cemetery. Sometimes they’d be accompanied by bowls of milk and mummified mice to see them through to the afterlife! There was even a death penalty in place for anyone who killed a cat – even if it was an accident!
From Egypt, domestic cats were traded throughout Europe from where they began their calculated plan for world domination.
The Chinese were also onto a good thing
Recent research suggests that Asian leopard cats (Prionailurus Bengalensis) may have been domesticated in China before the descendants of Felis Silvrestris Lybica arrived. In 2001, cat bones from around 3,500 BC were discovered in agricultural settlements in the Shaaanxi province.
Despite this, the domestic cats of China today are all descended from Felis Silvrestris Lybica whose ancestors replaced the leopard cat in domestic settings after their introduction around 2,000 years ago.
There has, however, been something of a leopard cat-human reunion of late as Bengals, first bred in the 1970s, are a hybrid of leopard cats and domestic cats.
So, there you have it – your kitty has a pretty interesting past. Of course, this is nothing new to her. She knows perfectly well that she’s a wild creature favoured by the gods and whose existence is completely essential to the wellbeing of humanity.