Cats and Humans – When were Cats first Domesticated?

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catArchaelogical Evidence of Cats in History

The oldest archaeological evidence for domesticated cats was found on the Greek island of Cyprus, where several animal species including cats were introduced by 7500 BC. Further, at the Neolithic site of Shillourokambos, a purposeful cat burial was found next to a human burial, dated between 9500-9200 years before the present. The archaeological deposits of Shillourokambos also included the sculpted head of what looks like a combined human-cat being.

The next is 6th millennium BC Haçilar, Turkey, where female figurines carrying cats or catlike figures in their arms have been discovered. There is some debate about the identification of these creatures as cats. Haçilar is well outside the normal distribution of F. s. lybica.


The sarcophagus for Prince Thutmose's cat is shown at an exhibit in Seattle. Thutmose lived during the 18th dynasty of Egypt which ruled from around 1500 BC -,d.d2k&psig=AFQjCNHI7KraqYnEch-WxEijD5e4aBUyrg&ust=1407869505775750

The sarcophagus for Prince Thutmose’s cat is shown at an exhibit in Seattle. Thutmose lived during the 18th dynasty of Egypt which ruled from around 1500 BC


Cats in Egypt

Up until very recently, most sources believed that domesticated cats became widespread after the Egyptian civilization took its part in the process. One recent paper argues that a cat skeleton discovered in a predynastic tomb (ca. 3700 BC) at Hierakonpolis may be evidence for domestication. The cat, apparently a young male, had a broken left humerus and right femur, both of which had healed prior to the cat’s death and burial. Reanalysis of this cat has identified the species as Felis chaus, not F. silvestris, however. Late period cats

The first illustration of a cat with a collar appears on an Egyptian tomb in Saqqara, dated to the 5th dynasty (Old Kingdom, ca 2500-2350 BC). By the 12th dynasty (Middle Kingdom, ca 1976-1793 BC), cats are definitely domesticated, and the animals appear frequently in Egyptian art paintings and mummies.

The feline goddesses Mafdet, Mehit and Bastet all date to the Early Dynastic period (although Bastet is not associated with domesticated cats until later). Cats are the most frequently mummified animal in Egypt.

Molecular Evidence for Cat Domestication

A recent study suggests that cats were domesticated at the same time as that of wheat and barley in the Fertile Crescent region, which is about 10,000 years ago. Time will tell-the only archaeological data supporting that is at Shillourokambos in Cyprus.

This exciting news is definitely not as far-fetched as it might be, given the role of the cat as the hunter of grain-eating rodents.

It’s one of those arguments about who may have been more domesticated in this relationship-the cat or the human?

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by Phillipa Mitchell

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