There is some confusion about the origins of the domestic cat, with researchers arguing about where and when in time cats were domesticated. Some scientists even argue that cats domesticated themselves. Read on to find out about the different theories.
The First Domesticated Cats
For a long time it was believed that the Egyptians domesticated cats around 4000 years ago. Geographically this makes sense because DNA evidence suggests that modern day domestic cats share a common ancestor with the African wildcat. However in 2004 a nine and a half thousand year old neolithic grave in Cyprus was excavated and revealed the remains of a cat buried with a human, which suggests humans kept cats long before the 4000 year mark.
An ancient Egyptian statue of a cat
Other studies have suggested that domestication of cats could have started as much as 12,000 years ago when agriculture boomed in the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent (a crescent shaped area of fertile land around Egypt and Syria).
A crescent shaped area of fertile land around Egypt and Syria
It is thought that the increased agriculture brought in more vermin and the cats followed. This theory makes sense because even today feral cats will flock to and thrive in areas with a plentiful supply of food, whether that be a restaurant offering scraps or a farm with vermin to hunt.
A Greek cat basking in the sun
It is believed that domestic cats were brought to Europe around 3000 years ago by Greek and Phoenician traders. Romans valued cats highly for pest control and the Roman Legions would have certainly taken cats with them as they moved through Gaul (modern day France) and eventually Britain.
Cats Reach Britain
Around 1600 years ago the Romans left Britain but many of the cats they owned were left behind. When the Vikings invaded Britain about 1000 years ago it is thought that they took some of the domesticated cats (that the Romans left behind) back to Norway with them.
About 700 years ago things took an unfortunate turn for cats in Britain. It was the middle ages and all of a sudden a suspicion of cats being involved in witchcraft was rife. There was a massacre of cats in Europe with hundreds of thousands being slaughtered. Many people hypothesised that this slaughter of cats allowed the rat population in Europe to boom and so played a great part in increasing the spread of the Bubonic plague from 1346 - 1353.
Cats Reach The New World
By the 1500’s cats had regained their popularity and were about to make another huge leap. New world traders and explorers left Britain and Spain during the 1600’s and 1700’s which lead to the introduction of domestic cats in America.
A lovely young tabby cat with big beautiful green eyes
The Modern Cat
The cat has become so popular that there is now around 8.5 million pet cats in the UK alone. Cats are the most popular pet animal in the world.
A cute cat lying down inside
Although more households own a dog, many cat owners show their devotion by being multi cat households. There are also now over a 100 domestic cat breeds with new breeds being constantly developed.