This series of essays will contain various tidbits and historical facts gleaned from readings over the years. While I believe it to be accurate, if anyone sees anything they believe to be an egregious error, please E-mail me and I will research it and make the change. In the same vein, if anyone knows any cat factlets that should be included, please also email them to United Cats!
CHAPTER ONE: THE ANCIENT CAT
The domestic cat (or house cat) is a historical latecomer. There are no cave paintings of cats. The cat is nowhere mentioned in the bible. In fact the cat was the very last animal to be domesticated, thousands of years after the dog, sheep, goat, etc. And in other ways the cat is unique. The cat is the only non social animal ever to be domesticated, all other domestic animals are herd or pack animals in the wild. And it is the only obligate carnivore ever domesticated, except possibly ferrets which are only partially domesticated. Note that a minority opinion holds that cats were not really domesticated until systematic breeding was begun in the 19th century.
The cat was first domesticated by the Egyptians around 2000 BC. It was probably the result of cross breeding the Libyan Wild Cat* with one or more small cat species such as the European Wild Cat*, the Cretan Wild Cat**, the Sand Cat and/or Pallas' Cat. Or it may literally have been bred from a mutation of one of the aforementioned wild cats. The Egyptian Pharaohs were great experimenters in the collection, domestication, and breeding of animals. Armies were literally sent abroad to collect exotic animals. The cat of course was far and away the Egyptians most successful experiment.
And the Egyptians knew they had a good thing too. They deified cats and had strict laws protecting them. For good reason, the Egyptian civilization was absolutely dependent on stored grain. And stored grain is a great temptation to rats and mice. And rats and mice are active during the night, when dogs are sleeping. Cats however, are active all night long and find rats and mice very tempting indeed... The cat earned its high status in Egyptian society.
Aside from there being several cat gods in the Egyptian pantheon, apparently the cat was an integral part of Egyptian culture and daily life. Families would be assigned a cat which they had to care for. The cats would be carefully brought to the granaries at night, and spend their days snoozing about the families homes. Cats quite literally were the worlds first commuters! There were elaborate rituals surrounding the cat, and the death of a cat was cause for great public grief and ceremony. Hundreds of thousands of mummified cats have been discovered in Egypt***.
|The laws protecting cats and prohibiting their export lasted for over two thousand years. It wasn't until the Roman conquest of Egypt in the first century BC that cats were exported abroad in a big way, although small numbers had been smuggled out by sailors who realized their utility aboard vermin ridden ships. And they caught on fast, not only for their prowess at protecting stored grains, but also for their generally utility in keeping vermin out of homes. Roman advertisements of the time of extol the virtues of these wonderful new animals over the ferret. The cat quickly replaced the ferret as the animal of choice for keeping rodents out of the home.||
CAT WITH SNAKE
By 500 AD the cat had spread throughout Europe, the middle east, and large parts of Asia, especially along the coast. By 1000 AD the cat was more or less distributed throughout the old world. And they may have even preceded Columbus to the new world in some mysterious cat like way. See Legend Cat for this curious tale.
EUROPEAN WILDCAT NOTES:
* These wild cats looked like your basic tabby but were larger on average than the typical domestic cat. Some (a very few) of these still survive in the wild.
** There is evidence that the Cretan Wild Cat, long thought extinct, survives in small numbers.
*** These mummies were stuffed with the equivalent of scrap newspapers etc. In the last few years scientists have developed the technology to read these scraps of paper and are learning details about everyday life in ancient Egypt. Sadly most of the cat mummies were destroyed in the 19th century.
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