Portions adapted from an article by David Zax of the Smithsonian Institute
Cats are the most popular pet in the United States. It is estimated that around 90 million of them are slinking around the feet of people in 34% of American households.
Ever wonder about your cats’ origins? It’s taken years of research for scientists to piece together the riddle of just when and where cats first became domesticated. One would think that the archaeological record might answer the question easily, but wild cats and domesticated cats have remarkably similar skeletons, complicating the matter. Some clues first came from the island of Cyprus in 1983, when archaeologists found a cat’s jawbone dating back 8,000 years. Desmond Morris in Catworld: A Feline Encyclopedia), suggested that domestication occurred more than 8,000 years ago. The unearthing of an even older site at Cyprus in 2004 in which a cat had been buried with a human, made it even more certain that the island’s ancient cats were domesticated, and pushed the domestication date back at least another 1,500 years. A study published in the research journal Science just last month added more pieces to the cat-domestication puzzle based on genetic analyses. They declared that all domestic cats, descended from a Middle Eastern wildcat, Felis sylvestris, which literally means “cat of the woods.” And all this time you thought that Fritz Freleng of Loony Tunes invented the name “Sylvester.” Cats were first domesticated in the Near East, and some speculate that the process began up to 12,000 years ago.
When humans were predominantly hunter-gatherers, the dog became man’s best friend, and were domesticated long before cats. When people became farmers, the cat became invaluable for keeping mice and rats out of the harvest. Cats were delighted by the abundance of prey in the silos and storehouses and people were delighted by the pest control. We think that this is about the time cats were invited into homes to keep the rodent population down there as well; thus domesticated kitties.
For some reason cats came to be demonized in Europe during the Middle Ages and considered by many as being affiliated with witches and the devil. Many were killed in an effort to ward off evil. Today we recognize the irony that this idiotic behavior helped spread the plague which was carried by rats. Isn’t it amazing what disaster ignorance can reap. Even to this day there are still those stupid enough to believe this mindless drivel. Believe it or not, this is why it is harder to find homes for black cats. I have always had black cats, but then everyone who knows me is fully aware that I’m a witch! ????
It’s no surprise that cats are such popular pets. One does not have to come home from work, grab the leash and walk them. If left enough fresh food, water, litter and a scratching post they can survive quite nicely without you for a couple of days without shredding your furniture while having a separation anxiety attack. It’s true that dogs are trainable and very valuable for police work, sniffing drugs, mountain and water rescue and many other admirable accomplishments. But I admire the demeanor of cats in that you will never see a bunch of them dragging a sled through feet of snow during a blizzard in their bare feet. Like one of my favorite T-shirts announces, “Dogs have owners; cats have staff.”
Allie , , , over and out!