From being revered as symbols of Ancient Egyptian gods, to being linked with witches in the Middle Ages, to completely dominating the Internet today, cats have long been a part of human history. It's estimated that cats were domesticated as far back as 12,000 years ago! With all the joy that cats bring us today, is it any wonder why they have persisted this long?
Let's take a look back at some of these ancient breeds that are still around today!
1. Egyptian Mau
Perhaps the most ancient cat breed of them all, it is believed that Egyptian Mau ancestors have been found mummified alongside Pharaohs in their tombs. Papyri and frescoes dating back as far as 1550 B.C. depict spotted cats that bear a striking resemblance to modern day Egyptian Maus. Their characteristic forehead markings are even said to resemble a scarab beetle, which were held sacred to Ancient Egyptians.
It is debated if Egyptian Maus are actually the oldest domesticated breed of cat, but it is one of the few naturally spotted breeds of cat - and one of the few breeds of domestic cat that actually has spotted fur AND spotted skin, too.
2. The Abyssinian
It is debated as to whether the Egyptian Mau or the Abyssinian is truly the "oldest" cat breed. The true origins of the Abyssinian breed is a matter of speculation and controversy. The name actually stems the first "Abyssinians" exhibited in cat shows in the 1800s; their name was derived from confusion over where they were imported from, noted that they were "captured in the late Abyssinian war." But there are no written records tracing the early Abyssinians to those imported cats.
Much like the Egyptian Mau, some aficionados of the breed also cite the Abyssinian's resemblance to cats sleek, elegant cats depicted ancient Egyptian paintings and sculptures.
However, recent genetic studies have revealed that the most convincing origin of the Abyssinian breed is the on coast of the Indian Ocean and parts of Southeast Asia. According to cfa.org, the earliest identifiable Abyssinian is from a "taxidermal exhibit still residing in the Leiden Zoological Museum in Holland. This ruddy ticked cat was purchased around 1834-1836 from a supplier of small wild cat exhibits and labeled by the museum founder as “Patrie, domestica India.”
3. Norwegian Forest Cat
Norwegian Forest Cats, affectionately called "Wegies" by cat connoisseurs, these fluffy giants are thought to be descended from cats that crossed the seas on Viking ships. Yes, Viking cats!
The Norwegian Forest Cats' ancestors may include black and white shorthair cats brought to Norway from Great Britain sometime after 1000 AD by the Vikings, and longhaired cats brought to Norway by Crusaders.
As with most things feline, the true origin of the Siamese cat breed is shrouded in mystery. No one is exactly certain where Siamese cats were originally bred and domesticated. Some people believe they were bred by royalty, others say Buddhist monks.
But a Thai manuscript dating back to the 14th century, the Tamra Maew, or 'The Cat Book Poems,', makes mention of dark-pointed cats and suggests that the Siamese is a very old breed.
5. Turkish Angora
The Turkish Angora breed finds its origins in mountainous regions of Turkey, where it developed its soft, medium-length fur coat for protection against the harsh climates. This traditionally white-coated breed is documented as far back as France in the 1600s!
There is some speculation that this unusually soft-furred feline may be descended from the Manul cat, a small cat domesticated by the Tartars.
6. Maine Coon Cats
Maine Coons, known as gentle giants and the "dogs of the cat world" are one of the most popular cat breeds today. But they're also one of the oldest! Likely descended from cats brought over to the Americas by Vikings, or later European sailors who docked at ports in 1700s New England.
Genetic testing has indicated that Maine Coon cats are actually descendants of Norwegian Forest Cats and a mysterious, now-extinct domestic cat.
Another surprisingly old breed, the Chartreux were thought to have originated in France as far back as 1558, where it was mentioned in a poem by Joachim du Bellay, called Vers Français sur la mort d'un petit chat (French verse on a small kitten's death). The poem reads:
"Here lies Belaud, my little gray cat,
Belaud, that was the most handsome perhaps
That nature ever made in cat's clothing.
This was Belaud, death to rats.
Belaud, to be sure his beauty was such
That he deserves to be immortal."
The most enduring explanation is that the Chartreux's ancestors, like the Turkish Angoras, were feral mountain cats from the Middle East. During the 13th century, it's thought that merchants or Crusaders brought the cats to France. Once in France, the breed was continued by Carthusian monks at the Grande Chartreuse Monastery in southeastern France.
8. Japanese Bobtail
Written records indicate that the Japanese Bobtail likely originated in 600-700 A.D., accompanying Buddhist monks in keeping rats out of their supplies of rice paper scrolls in their temples. The 1600s saw the trade suffering from rat infestations, and the Japanese Bobtail is thought to have been brought along to help control the rat population and protect the goods. The Japanese Bobtail has certainly existed in Japan for many centuries; it is featured in many ancient prints and paintings!