Cats and People: Who Domesticated Whom? January 16 2017, 6 Comments

Although we call the world’s most popular pet “domesticated,” there are ongoing debates about how domesticated our feline companions truly are.

There’s no question that cats still have a bit of the wilderness in them. It’s evident in the way they play, prowling through our houses as if they’re stalking prey in the wild, keeping their claws honed and sharpened, ready to strike at anything that moves.

Studies show that domestic cats, unlike dogs, don’t really need human care to survive. They are some of the world’s most effective hunters, after all, with nearly 70 percent of their hunts ending in success. If cats can survive (if necessary) without us now, did they really need us way back when? If they didn’t need us to survive, why did they decide to stick around? How did they become the pets we know and love today?

Recent studies show that our fluffy companions likely became domesticated some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, by farmers in the Middle East, after strolling onto our farms and into our homes in their confident feline fashion. And ever since, they’ve been wandering their way into our hearts, too.

(Credit: Flickr / wapiko☆)

Geneticist Carlos Driscoll says that cats “just sort of domesticated themselves," content to meander about the farms some 12,000 years ago, catching mice, rats and other pests that destroyed the farmers’ crops. Cats essentially became protectors of the harvest and an important part of agricultural life for humans.

(Credit: Wikimedia)

It’s likely that cats chose to become a part of human life and actually allowed themselves to be domesticated. People probably weren’t going out into the wilderness to forcibly capture cats and keep them as pets. It’s hard enough to keep a cat inside our homes today without some type of barrier. Imagine trying to keep a cat inside a house 12,000 years ago!

Now, fast forward a few thousand years. When people started traveling to distant lands, their cats came with them. On the island country of Cyprus, the preserved remains of a 9,5000-year-old cat were found buried alongside its human. Cats aren’t native to Cyprus, indicating that people brought their cats with them. Cats were steadily becoming our close companions.

It was in Ancient Egypt, however, when early domestic cats were at the pinnacle of society: almost rivaling the undeniably adorable power of our modern-day Internetz gods.

A treasure trove of feline artifacts from some 4,000 years ago reveals that cats were a sacred part of everyday life in Ancient Egypt. Cats were venerated as symbols of Bast, a goddess of protection and fertility, and other deities like Sekhmet and Ra. Countless statues and hieroglyphs of cats reveal their roles in Ancient Egyptian life; And carefully mummified cats buried alongside the great Pharaohs indicate that Egyptians took great care of their companions, ensuring they would be safe even in the afterlife.

(Credit: Wikimedia)

Even with all the evidence at hand, it’s difficult to tell if we domesticated cats or if they just trained us really, really well to take care of them.


By: Cortney Licata