A Backwards Glance into the History of Cats
By Audrey Frederick
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
really 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
(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
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
37 living cat species.
Millions of years ago, as sea level rose and fell, the earth formed
natural bridges and the cats being nomadic creatures traveled all over to
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
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
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
past eight lineage’s 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
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
not only for catching mice and rats, but also as a household pet. The
Egyptians were so enamored with “the cat” and its importance in their
they not only allowed it in their households, they eventually worshipped
the cat and treated it like royalty. “The royalty treatment” is
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
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
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 and if you were guilty of that crime, you
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
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.
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
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.
are fairly certain the people buying the cats did not know they were
intentionally killed. It did not 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
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
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
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
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
Europe. People were dying everywhere and soon they realized the error of
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
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
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.
very important on board ships in order to protect the cargo from the rats
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
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 and cats were once again welcome as the rat and mice population
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
would have lost much of their cargo. You might say “cats” saved our
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 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
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
to give our country a great mix of what is known as “domestic
shorthaired.” 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
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
life without having at least one of them around and I hope you feel the