Forget the Egyptian cats.

Tabby probably domesticated us 12000 years ago in the Middle East, about the same time as agriculture was invented. The theory is that agriculture allowed fixed settlements and grain storage, and the cats were attracted by rats eating the grain, and gradually became used to humans, who fed and tamed them.
DNA studies of domesticated cats show that they probably descended from five cats; DNA suggests they were from the Near Eastern wildcat species:

At least five females of the wildcat subspecies known as Felis silvestris lybica (“cat of the woods”) accomplished this delicate transition from forest to village. And from these five matriarchs all the world’s 600 million house cats are descended.

The theory is that the cats migrated along with the knowledge of agriculture, a theory that some doubt, since the Chinese claim they invented rice growing techniques independently and recent data suggests agriculture developed independently about the same time in South America. More likely, travelers and traders brought the cats with them along with seeds and locals adopted cats as pets and vermin eaters, similar to the adoption of pets by South African tribes who obtained both maize and cats via Portuguese traders in Africa.

There are a lot of myths about cats, both good and bad, including the story told to visting Romans and Greeks of how the Egyptians thought cats were gods and mummified when they died, and that if you killed a cat you were executed. Modern discoveries of cat mummies however reveal most of them were young and healthy and had been killed and mummified as an offering, suggesting that cats were big business to the priests and that foreigners had been told a tall tale.

As for us, we have three cats; two wandered in off the street and adopted us.

Guess the domestication of humans is still going on.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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