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A Brief History of Cats; how felines became human ancient companions

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A much-loved and very popular pet, domestic cats have one of the more interesting relationships with humans over time. Originally associated to the Ancient Egyptians over 3,600 years ago, cats have actually been around humans for a lot longer – closer to 9,500 years according to the findings of an archaeological dig in Cyprus. The cats from that era however, are no more, as they do not resemble the modern day feline as we know it.

sacred cat memorial from Egypt
Sacred cat memorial from Egypt

Cats have always had a connected to human history, they featured heavily in Ancient Egyptian lore, with them having been venerated as sacred animals, likewise, cultures around the world put a lot of emphasis on cats and their role in modern civilisation. But where exactly did it originate from?

egyptian lore cat painting, papyrus
Egyptian lore, cat painting, papyrus

Historians have been able to trace back the first origins of cats to the Middle East over 10,000 years ago, where it is believed they were first domesticated. Although they were seen more as a tool rather than a companion, they were spread across the known world from Japan to England. From there, the mystique grew. Apart from Egyptians worshipping them as a deity, cats were seen as a symbol of good luck in Japan, and were seen as guides or all-knowing companions sent to help steer us.

Cat shrine in Japan
Cat shrine in Japan

However, not all cultures saw cats as being a positive addition to society. Many held negative superstitions regarding them, some of which persist today in more trivial fashion. In medieval France, cats were burnt alive as a form of entertainment but also to collect their ashes, which they believed helped with good luck. During the same time period in Belgium, cats were associated as belonging to witches, and were routinely killed in an effort to ward away evil spirits.

witch and a cat illustration
witch and a cat illustration

As times progressed and disease spread, cats were used to hunt down rodents in large cities to help curb outbreaks. Likewise they would be loaded onto ships both as a form of rodent control but also out of companionship for sailors, who continued to see the felines as a source of good luck. This persisted to modern days, but with cats less needed to control rodent populations, they have occupied a spot in our homes as a token family member.

cat attempting to catch a mouse
cat attempting to catch a mouse

It is now estimated there is over 600 million cats around the world, spread across 70 different breeds. Of those 600 million, around a sixth are wild, whilst the others are believed to be domesticated house pets. Recent study shows how cats slowly conquered the world as human pets.

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