cat, outdoors, garden-7476967.jpg

History Of Cat Domestication

For the cat, as for other domestic animals, the process of domestication occurred over a long period of time. Wild cats would have associated with humans once the latter stopped being hunter-gathers and formed permanent settlements, grew grain crops and set up grain stores. Grain stores would have attracted mice and rats, which in turn would have attracted mice and wild cats.

Any sensible agriculturist would quickly have seen the advantage of encouraging these cats to help control the vermin, so a loose, but mutually beneficial, association would have been forged.

Just when the process of domestication started is unclear, though, and our estimaed rely on archaeological discoveries and the excavation of cat remains, which indicate a close association with humans. Although various cat remains have been found in Egyptian archaeological sites dating to 6700BC, there is no firm evidence that these were necessarily domesticated animals, and they are more likely to have been wild cats. If you accept that finding a cat skeleton buried with a person is evidence that the cat was domesticated, then a 7000-year-old burial site at Mostagedda, in Egypt, is evidence enough. There, excavations revealed a man buried with two animals at his feet: a cat and a gazelle.

From that time on there is plenty of evidence to show that cats became well established in Egyptian homes. A painting at Thebes, in the tomb of the harbour master, May, and his wife Tui, portrays a ginger cat sitting beneath Tui’s chair. It wears a collar, and its leash is tied to a chair leg. The inference is that it was a pet, although this could be disputed.

There are also some interesting, though inconclusive, artifacts to suggest that by this period in history cats were not only kept as pets in homes, but also used to help people to hunt. At least three tomb paintings, one of them in the tomb of the sculptor Nebuman, show cats apparently participating in the action while wildflowers are using throwing sticks to catch and kill ducks and other birds. Were these cats helping to flush out game from the reed beds and/or helping to retrieve it? A sceptic might suggest that they were simply there to take advantage of a free lunch.

Those of us who are owned by cats may well subscribe to the theory that humnas did not domesticate the cat at all, but that the cat domesticated itself by walking into, adapting to and taking over people’s lives. With few exceptions, the modern domestic cat remains independent and solitary, and has an indefinable wild streak.

Scroll to Top