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history of cats as pets

Cat History: Evolution through the Ages

Many believe that the earliest domesticated cats were those in found depicted in 3,600-year old Egyptian paintings and hieroglyphics. However, recent archeological findings suggest that cat domestication may be a lot earlier than this.

Cats of the Wild

Domesticated cats belong to a unique group of mammals that have the same genealogy about ten to 15 million years ago. This group includes the tigers, cougars, lions, panthers, and leopards, as well as other smaller versions of their larger relatives. These smaller cats belonged to a subgroup known as Felis and can include jungle cats, wildcats, mountain cats, and sand cats, among others.

First Sign of Cat Domestication

A burial site of Neolithic origins was uncovered by scientists in 2004 that contains the skeletal remains of a human and what is now known as a cat that is closely similar to the African wildcat of the lybica species. The find has been dated to be around 9,500 years old, clearly suggesting that the domestication of cats began in earnest in the fertile plains of the Middle East, generally referred to as the Fertile Crescent. Read also: Cats love to hunt: it's in their genes.

Chinese archeological findings have also proven the domestication of cats in the Quanhucun region as early as 5,300 years ago. The domestication of cats in the area was believed to have been the result of an unusually large supply of grains from a bountiful harvest that attracted rodents to the villages. Wildcats near the area were then attracted by the unusually large numbers of rodents. As a natural prey of rodents, local inhabitants took the cats in to control the growing rodent population.

Mythical Creatures

Paintings as well as hieroglyphics depict the cat in ancient Egypt as a sacred animal, often associating them with Bastet, the Lower Egyptian Goddess of warfare who, herself, is often depicted as having a cat’s head. Norse mythology also showcases cats in some of their stories. It is believed that the Norse goddess of love and beauty as well as fertility, Freyja, often rides in a cat-drawn chariot.

Japanese folklore believe that the maneki neko cat symbolizes prosperity while Islamic nations often revere the cat as a recognition of it being a pet of one of the founders of an Islamic Order, the Rifa’I Sufi, several centuries after the prophet Muhammad.

Many cultures also believe that cats have many lives. German, Italian, Greek, and several countries that speak Spanish consider the cat as having seven lives while those in Turkey and Arab nations know them to have six lives. This seeming invincibility of cats is attributed to its natural flexibility and swiftness that allow it to escape dangerous, often life-threatening, situations.

First Taxonomic Classification

With the advent of taxonomic classification of all living things in 1735, the domestic cat was given its first taxonomic classification as Felis catus in 1758 in the 10th edition of Carolus Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae. Although there was initial confusion in the classification because domestic cats were, at that time, considered as just a subspecies of Felis silvestris, the wildcat. Read also: Are You Interested In Finding Out About The Different Types Of House Cat.

However, the confusion was finally resolved in 2003 when the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature made Felis catus as the permanent taxonomic name of domestic cats and Felis silvestris for wildcats.

With thousands of years of being in the company of man, cats have continuously evolved to what they are today – independent and affectionate, playful yet sometimes reserved, but definitely still overflowing with the same genes that define the feline group of mammals. For more details and information about history of cats, click here.

The Wonderful World of Cats


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