Cat History - The Domestic Cat Through the Ages

Cat history, it is generally believed, can be traced back to the Miacis, a weasel like creature that inhabited the earth some 40 or so million years ago.

Not only the history of the cat, but the history of all land dwelling carnivores can be traced back to the Miacis, and that includes dogs!

The best known of the cats of pre-history, is the saber toothed tiger (Smilodon).

These large, fearsome, members of the cat family roamed, and hunted, much of the ancient world before finally hunting their prey, and therefore themselves, to extinction.

By the close of the Stone Age cats had learned that where humans were found, there was the easy prey of rodents, this was still too early in time for them to be considered domestic pets.

A cat's jawbone that has been dated to 6000 BC was uncovered on the island of Cyprus, and as cats are not indigenous to the island, it points to cats arriving on the island along with the first human colonists.

It was the descendants of the African wildcat that took the history of the cat into domestication.

Cat History: The Egyptians

The Ancient Egyptians had developed a method of storing grain and other food supplies.

Naturally these stores attracted rats and mice. It was not long before cats were tempted by the abundance of the rodent population.

wildcat

Mankind, of course, saw the advantage of allowing these ambush hunting rat killers free reign and so cats had an ample supply of prey and man had his grain store protected.

This was the point in cat history that marked the beginnings of the long relationship with humankind.

Not only did the cat gradually take up residence in Egyptian households, but came to be revered and worshiped as being godlike.

History records that the export of cats was forbidden, and the penalty for killing a cat was death.

Cats were greatly mourned when they passed away and were often mummified after and buried in sanctified plots, often with their supplies of mummified mice for the afterlife!

One such plot alone has been found to contain the remains of 300,000 cats, and has proved an invaluable resource for studying the history of the cat.

The History of Cats - Asia and Europe

The Ancient Egyptians may have forbidden exportation of the cat, but some were smuggled out. These highly prized rodent catchers soon spread to the Indian sub-continent, and on to China.

In some places in Asia, history shows that cats were once again thought to have magical and mystical qualities, and as in Egypt, became revered as gods. Everywhere cats soon became highly regarded pets, as well as being prized for keeping the rodent population in check.

It was the Romans and to a certain extent, the Greeks, who introduced the domestic cat throughout Europe. They were kept as mascots by the Roman legions and traveled with them as they conquered lands.

The cat was not worshiped in Europe, but kept to be petted and for companionship, as well as for keeping the mice, and rat, population down. The 11th century brought the Black Death and domestic felines became vital in destroying the vermin that was spreading the plague.

However, with the Middle ages came the worst time in history for the cat.

Cat History: Medieval Superstition

Cats at this time were believed to be agents of the devil, and to possess magical powers. Pope Gregory IX declared the cat to be a "Diabolical Creature". Persons that kept cats were suspected of being witches, and were put to death along with their feline pet.

The cats themselves were believed by some to be witches, shape shifted into evil creatures.

Cats were beaten, killed and driven away from towns and villages. In fact the domestic cat population of Europe came close to being wiped out.

Some of the superstitions from those times have survived history, such as believing it bad luck to let a black cat cross your path.

Eventually the witch hunts ceased, and cats once again became highly prized and loved, household pets.

By the late 1800s distinctive breeds were being established and cat shows held, with the newly introduced long-haired breeds especially popular.

Cat History: North America

Although the North American continent had many varieties of wild cats there had been no history of domestication of cats until the Europeans arrived. Some were ship’s cats that ventured ashore with the early settlers; others perhaps were imported to control the rodent populations of the settlements.

It is just possible that cats accompanied the Vikings when they landed centuries before; there is a similarity between Norwegian Forest Cats and Maine Coon Cats.

However it was that domestic cats arrived, felines soon started making cat history, became working farm cats and before long became favored pets in the New World as they had in the Old.

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