When were cats first domesticated? How did cats evolve? How were cats domesticated? What are the origins of house cats? Where did cats come from? Why do we keep cats as pets? Where were cats kept as pets first? How long ago were cats first domesticated? Where did cats originate? How long have cats been domesticated?
Nobody is really sure of how, or when, or where, cats were first domesticated but there is evidence that suggests what happened. Some things we know are facts, other things we have to put together on the basis of what we know about cats, and the evidence we have.
The Basic Facts on Domesticated Cats
Genetic studies have pinpointed our domestic cat's ancestor as being the African wildcat. All domestic cats can trace to five female African wildcats, who are also in the genus Felis, and can still interbreed with domestic cats. There are other wild cats of the genus Felis who may have also contributed some genes to some breeds along the way, most likely the Chinese mountain cat, but the main one is certainly the African wildcat, an animal that looks like a short haired light brown tabby cat.
Most of the evidence points to the fact that cats were first domesticated in the area of what is now known as Egypt. Indeed we know that Egyptians valued cats very much as they have represented them in their art for many years, and have even mummified some cats. The cats in their art clearly show that they had already evolved into a more refined animal than that of their wild counter part, the African wildcat, from which they evolved.
Cats reproduce quickly as such their physical appearance through mutation and breeding selection is quite rapid. The most notable change from the wild cats being in color with domestic cats having a huge range in color, and some having longer fur length. As well there have been some minor physical changes in certain breeds, such as the Persian, Rex, Siamese, and Manx.
One of the earliest pieces of evidence of cat domestication was a preserved kitten found in a child's grave that dated back to 9,500 years ago. This was in Cyprus; a Mediterranean island where wild cats were not found. As such we know that cats were domesticated prior to this, and brought to Cyprus at some point.
photo source - wildcat
What We can Deduce About Cat Domestication
By their nature cats are curious, they will hide, but will also investigate when they feel it is safe to do so. Undoubtedly cats put themselves in front of humans many times, and domestication may have been inevitable.
There are two theories on how cats came to be domesticated, either they hung around humans and were tolerated and eventually adored; or humans did intentionally domesticate them for use to control rodents.
When we see cats portrayed in Egyptian art it is not with mice in their mouths, or under their paws, something which would indicate they were valued as mousers, rather it appears they were simply valued as being beautiful animals. Indeed the ancient Egyptians were well known for valuing aesthetics and pleasing forms. As such it may be assumed that while cats did kill mice, rats, and even snakes, they were adored just for being beautiful.
Cats tame relatively quickly and easily. Even cats that have been feral all their lives, and have had no human contact, cat be brought into a home and tamed in a few weeks if given the right about of care, and food! They soon learn to adapt and how to take advantage of their situation, be it for a warmer home, or easier food. This makes cats an easy animal to domesticate.
Their small size also means that domestication of the house cat was relatively safe. Undoubtedly the early relationship with humans was mutual, the cats killed mice and rats, and the humans gave them save, warm, places to sleep.
Another theory exists too, which should be added; We perhaps did not domesticate cats, perhaps they domesticated us!