Categories: cat domestication

2,000-year-old cat carving found on Peruvian hillside

Peru’s Ministry of Culture report that they have discovered a feline figure carved into an arid hillside around 2,000 years ago. This is a geoglyph made in the rocky soil of the Nazca Desert in southern Peru. This huge drawing was gently created by scraping away the top layers of rock and gravel to reveal a lighter-coloured bedrock underneath. It is the lighter coloured bedrock which forms the basis of the shape of the cat. Wikipedia describes the creation as removing the top layer of “reddish-brown iron oxide-coated pebbles to reveal a yellow-grey subsoil”. Some of these designs are enormous being about 1.1 km across. They would surely put this image of a cat to shame in terms of size.

Ancient geoglyph of a cat on side of hill in Peru. Photo: Jhony Islas.

It was barely visible and was about to disappear due to the lapse of time and natural erosion. The ministry suggest that it was created between 200 BC to 100 BC in the late Paracas period. They say that these sorts of feline drawings are often found on ceramics and textiles from this period.

One’s first impression is that this artwork would have faded and disappeared well before the 2000 years of elapsed time has been completed but apparently not. This is put down to the climate and weather conditions of the area which are described as dry, windless and very stable. Changes in weather are extremely rare so there is little chance of the designs being altered or eroded.

However, over almost 2,000 years the drawing had become very faint. You can see restorers cleaning up the artwork by making it stand out better.

Ancient geoglyph of a cat on side of hill in Peru. Photo: Jhony Islas.

Discussion

I’m going to discuss this in layperson’s terms. We have to first agree that the picture is of a cat. After all, it could be a dog or another animal. It does, however, looks like a cat although it is very primitive. If we agree that it is a cat we have to decide whether it depicts a wild or domestic cat. There are no scientific studies to the best of my knowledge about cat domestication in Peru around 2,000 years ago except for one (see below)! Almost all the recorded history of the domestic cat relates to the Middle East and domestic cats fanning out with traders to Europe and Asia. That doesn’t mean that ancient Peruvians did not have domestic cats. It’s possible.

Around 10 years ago I wrote an article about the possibility of the Andean mountain cat been domesticated around 3,500 years ago. The experts discovered animal bones said to be those of domestic cats from the Peruvian Amazon. Could they have been the bones of a domesticated Andean mountain cat? This diminutive wild cat species is very similar in appearance to a domestic cat. They are also inherently accepting of people even today. That’s why they are killed unfortunately for ceremonial purposes. However, this small cat does not live in the Amazon. It lives in dry, arid conditions.

Andean mountain cat wearing a radio collar. His name is Jacobo. Photo copyright J. Reppuccini AGA

I have a strong suspicion that the feline geoglyph just might be a crude drawing of an Andean mountain cat. If not, it is likely to be a puma i.e. the mountain lion which would have been distributed in Peru at that time. FYI, it is believed that the first domestic cats existed around 10,000 years ago to the east of the Mediterranean. These were domesticated Near Eastern wildcats.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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