A Backward Glance into the History of Cats

Have you ever wondered where “today’s cat” came from?

I have and so I began a little research on the history of cats.

Apparently no one knows when or how “the cat” first appeared on our planet.

According to some sources it is said that Miacis, a weasel-like animal that lived about 40 or 50 million years ago is the cat’s closest ancestor.

I have not been able to find any pictures or drawings of this animal, that is supposed to be the father/mother (if you will,) of all land-dwelling carnivores, including the dog.

Since I cannot prove otherwise, I will accept this information for as close to the truth as I can get.

According to a DNA study that was done in 1997 by two members of the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland, it appears that cats have been known to live in Asia as early as 11 million years ago and here in North America as early as 9 million years ago.

Their research was based on DNA analysis of 37 living cat species.

Millions of years ago, as the sea level rose and fell, the earth formed natural bridges and the cats being nomadic creatures traveled all over to colonize, everywhere that is, except Antarctica according to some scientists.

Why not there? I believe cats were smart enough to know it was too cold.

If you are picturing in your mind a cat that looks like your cat wandering around the earth, forget it.

These cats did not look like our cats, some were big cats and some were smaller cats, it took a long while for “our cat” to emerge.

The 1997 study by the National Cancer Institute also helped determine that most of the 37 or so living species of cat that exist today, belonged to one of the past eight lineages according to their DNA.

It is said that the first association of cats with humans may have occurred during the Stone Age.

Apparently, the cats figured out “where there were humans” there would be food and where there was food a mouse or two could be found.

However, it took a long time for cats to be considered household pets, as cats were considered useful, but wild beasts.

Then came the days of ancient Egypt.

The Egyptians about 5,00 to 6,000 years ago had learned how to stockpile grain for future use.

With the stockpiles of grain came mice and rats and a serious need occurred.

The Egyptians were the first civilization to domesticate the cat on a large scale and to make the world aware of the usefulness of the cat not only for catching mice and rats, but as a household pet.

The Egyptians were so enamored with “the cat” and its importance in their lives that they not only allowed it in their households, they eventually worshipped the cat and treated it like royalty.

”The royalty treatment” is something the cat never forgot.

In Egypt when a cat died they were mummified and buried in elaborate ceremonies, even in the poorest of households.

Mice were mummified along with the cat, so that the cat would have food in is afterlife.

There were some cats that were considered sacred and they lived in the temples with the priests.

These cats were considered oracles and people would come from long distances to ask the cats questions. The priests would interpret the cat’s actions (such as licking its paw) and tell the visitor what the cat was saying.

It was considered a crime to kill a cat back then and if you were guilty of that crime, you were killed, too.

However,it has come to light during an archeological excavation in Saqqara, where thousands of cat mummies were found, that all the cats did not die a natural death.

By x-raying some of the mummified cats it was revealed that many did die of natural causes, but some were young cats (year old) with broken necks.

There are two schools of thought here, one being that the cat population had grown too large and it was a way to slow it down.

The other possibility was that the priests raised these cats and later killed and mummified them to sell to people who attended festivals.

It was considered proper to buy a mummified cat as a way to please the “cat goddess” called Bastet and then ask a personal favor from her.

Researchers are fairly certain the people buying the cats did not know they were intentionally killed.

It didn’t take long for the word to get around (about a 1,000 years or so) about the usefulness of cats in a household.

Soon the Romans and Greeks realized the value of a cat and made them members of their household. Here they were not worshipped.

During the 11th century cats became extremely important in killing the rats that were causing the Black Death.

Then came the Middle Ages and trouble followed for the cats.

Pope Gregory IX apparently did not like cats and decided that they were diabolical creatures and needed to be destroyed.

It was a sad time for cats as they were beaten, killed and driven away from the villages.

Anyone who had a cat was considered a “witch” and was put to death along with the cat.

Cats were sacrificed, burned to death and even buried alive inside walls of houses (supposed to bring good luck.)

As the cat population was being destroyed, the rat and mice population grew by leaps and bounds.

Causing a great many plagues and other epidemics all over Europe.

People were dying everywhere and soon they realized the error of their ways.

By the 17th century, cats were back in favor, doing what they did best, catching mice and rats.

However, people began to see that cats were nice to have around and soon they became treasured household pets once again.

It has been said that the first cats came to North America by crossing over the Bering Strait about several million years or so ago.

However, in more recent times (1600-1700) cats came on board ships with the traders and explorers. Cats were very important on board ships in order to protect the cargo from the rats and mice.

Many early settlers in the colonies, brought their own cats with them. Life seemed pretty good for cats until the Salem witch-hunt of 1692 and once again cats became a product of discrimination along with the people who owned them and were destroyed or driven away.

Once again “people” learned the error of their ways.

Cats were a necessary commodity and needed as the rat and mice population grew.

In 1749 cats were brought to Pennsylvania to help control a serious rodent plague.

As more and more colonists came to the new world, the need for cats grew. It was necessary to import cats and the new cats needed to be stronger and sturdier.

Without cats, the New World would have faced many plagues and ships would have lost much of their cargo.

You might say “cats” saved our country.

As time went on and our country grew, people started moving west.

They packed up their worldly possessions into wagons, gathered up the family and livestock and forgot the cats.

They seemed to forget, that where there were people and food (grain) soon there would be rodents.

It’s Murphy’s Law.

It is said that during the Gold Rush of 1849, people were buying cats off trading ships for $50.00 a piece.

In 1884 during the rat plague that came to San Francisco, people were willing to pay up to $100 for a cat.

Cats like our country prospered and like the people, cats came from all countries of the world. This mix of cats and the breeding that took place has managed to give our country a great mix of what is known as “domestic shorthairs.”

Today there are more than sixty-five million cats living in our homes. Cats far outnumber dogs.

The number of actual breeds varies according to the source you check. Some sources say that there are 36 species, others say 37 species, but we have found with the new breeds coming along that there are probably over 40 different varieties of cats.

This has been a very brief history of cats, they certainly have played a very important part in the growth of the Universe.

It is hard for me to imagine life without having at least one of cat around and I hope you feel the same.