A Cat’s Journey: How Did Cats Went From Great Hunters To Sassy Indoor Pets?

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For the time being, a lot of homes have cats living under their roofs. Whether it is a family or someone who lives alone, it is not unusual to find a tiny feline living with them. In fact, the World Atlas estimates that there are more than 600 million of these furry creatures all over the globe, and about 373 million of them are taken in as pets.

And if you are someone who has kept one as a pet for the longest time now, let me ask you this. When you look at your precious feline friend, don’t you ever wonder about the very first time a cat was welcomed into a person’s house? Don’t you ever get curious as to when or why it happened? Were they lured inside people’s houses? 

Do you have intriguing thoughts like that? If yes, then stick with me here, because we will now take a look at the history of how these beings turned from wild creatures into domesticated purring balls of sunshine.

When did cats get domesticated?

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Actually, there is no exact date of when cats were finally considered to be domesticated animals. However, in 2001, archaeologists found skeletal remains of a human together with that of a cat in Cyprus. Along with their remains, offerings such as sea shells and polished stone tools were also found. The said cadavers were estimated to have been buried 9500 years ago, years earlier than the visual representations of cats found in unearthed ancient Egyptian artifacts. Moreover, as evidence suggests, it is possible that cats themselves were responsible for their domestication. 

Over 10,000 years ago, during the emergence of the agricultural revolution in the Fertile Crescent, humans went from hunting to farming. They stopped their nomadic ventures and started to settle down in lands. They are also believed to have learned how to use plants as their food resources on their own. This new-found approach of garnering food along with the newly developed technologies that came with it surely contributed to the longevity of human lives back then. Their civilization grew from small communities into powerful empires; however, it also brought unwanted trouble. Tons of rats, mice, and other pests infested areas where humans were settling, particularly in places where they were storing their food surpluses such as root crops and grain supplies. It became a huge problem for the farmers back then, but thankfully, the tiny felines arrived. 

Apparently, rodents, rats, mice, and the likes are some of cats’ favorite prey. And similar to their prey, the cats’ hunger for survival was what probably led them to expose themselves to humans and their inhabited areas. Eventually, humans saw the benefits of having these tiny yet wild creatures roaming around, so they had no choice but to keep it that way. As time passed by, the untamed beings grew used to having humans around them as well since the latter started feeding them in order to make them stay and continue hunting pests around the communities. But during this time, cats were still considered as wild animals. Unlike dogs, it is believed that the decision of getting domesticated was solely up to the untamed felines. Sassy creatures, indeed!

Cats in Egypt

Egyptian Mau | Photo from: iStock

Various theories are told about how and when cats turned up in the Egyptian lands. Some say that they were the “domesticated” descendants of the African wildcat, while some argue that the cats were likely brought to Egypt through ships used for trading. Notwithstanding these theories, one thing remains true: Cats, with their natural craftiness and unmatched sass, almost effortlessly captured the hearts of the locals and dominated ancient Egypt as a whole. Somewhat similar to their role in the Fertile Crescent, cats in ancient Egypt also served as the food stock protector, which the locals seemed to highly favor. However, for the ancient Egyptians, cats were more than just beings that decimated the vermin trying to empty their food supplies. 

In truth, cats were not worshipped in ancient Egypt. But it is important to note that these felines gained the respect and admiration of everyone because of how they take care of their kittens, and also because they served as the humans’ tiny defenders. How? Well, cats prevented a lot of unfortunate accidents caused by dangerous creepy crawlers since they were also highly skilled in hunting down venomous creatures such as snakes and scorpions. With that, we can’t really blame the ancient Egyptians for having a soft spot for these clever and graceful little beings.  

As years went by, the Egyptians’ high regard of cats only increased. People perceived the cat to be one of the gods’ chosen vessels and carved statues of their worshipped deities with heads like that of a cat. They saw the tiny felines as symbols of power, justice, and fertility, and even named their children after them. What do I mean by that? You see, they referred to the creatures as miit or miu, which literally means “one who mews.” From that word, variations of children’s names were derived. Pharaoh Pami was one of them. Pharaoh Pami was an autocrat who ruled ancient Egypt for seven years. The pharaoh’s name bears the meaning of “He who belongs to the Cat” or “the Cat.” The Cat refers to the Egyptian deity, Bastet. The ancient civilization also built cemeteries solely for cats, wherein dead feline bodies were mummified and laid to rest. Their bodies were mummified because humans intended for cats to accompany their dead owners to the afterlife.

To add to that, portraits of cats are present in several artifacts disinterred and discovered by archaeologists. These recorded pieces of evidence that account to over 3,000 years show just how significant these animals were in the ancient Egyptian civilization, particularly in their religious and social customs. 

Ancient Greek and Romanian Cats

In Europe, particularly in Greece and Rome, ferrets and weasels were in charge of protecting people’s food stock from various kinds of pests. However, that changed when the little felines showed up. Phoenician traders are widely considered to be the ones responsible for the influx of cats in Europe during the 5th century BC. When the locals realized how skilled cats are in terms of hunting their prey, particularly rats and the likes, the initial protectors of European food supplies were replaced by the feline newcomers. Furthermore, cats also became part of the Roman army, but their role is not on the battlefield. It was in the soldiers’ bastion, particularly in places where they store their defense equipment, because rats also happened to fancy gnawing on leather and wood. Eventually, because of the benefits of keeping cats around, the Romans perceived them as helpful companions. And in a way, we can say that as the soldiers protected their land, feline members of their army protected them from the dangers of using defective weaponries.

Bad Luck for the Cats?

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The cats’ reputation of being helpful companions in Europe continued until the Middle Ages. During that time, they were still recognized as skillful rat hunters, but people began to have negative impressions about them. It all started when authors from the medieval period viewed the cats’ prey-hunting practices negatively, frequently making parallels between cats catching mice and the devil catching souls in their writings. 

Come the 12th century and the feline discrimination only worsened when Walter Map demonstrated in one of his writings the alleged role of cats during cacodemonic rituals. Devout members of the Catholic Church then accused nonconformist groups of being affiliated to cats; the creatures were also associated with witches. Thus, in 1484, Pope Innocent VIII himself asserted and referred to the tiny felines “as the devil’s favorite animal and idol of all witches.” Thankfully, not all members of the popular religion believed the unfair accusations. Nuns and monks had taken a great liking for the condemned animal since, apart from humans, cats were the only beings allowed to roam inside the cloisters.  

At last…

Somewhere between the 18th and 19th centuries, people started to keep animals as pets because the activity was believed to be conducive in deepening kids’ knowledge when it comes to responsibility. However, only the dogs were considered as the cats’ reputation remained tainted by the previous condemnations. Fortunately, it all changed when the late 19th century came. During that time, people from different parts of the world began to realize that the tiny felines were more than just skilled mousers. They saw that the creatures were also very much worthy of being a part of their families and from that, the cats’ popularity as pets only increased.

Cats in the 21st century

In present time, cats, alongside dogs, are considered to be the most popular pets all across the globe. And even though their prey-hunting skills —which was the reason why people liked having them around— may not be as noticed and praised as it was back then, they surely continue to win the hearts of many until now. Don’t believe me? That’s okay. Millions of wholesome cat contents circulating around the internet can easily vouch for me!

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